Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday that celebrates the creation of the United States of America and its independence from the British Empire. Each year, Americans gather to celebrate with family and friends at barbecues and beaches.
In 2018 in Trump's America, as we look back on the 200+ years of this country, it’s a sharp reminder of the limitations of freedom queer people have always faced.
Homosexuality has existed as long as human beings have, but its acceptance is still waiting to experience a full bloom. Queer people have long operated in the shadows of society, stealing away any moments of joy they can, knowing that being discovered could cost them their social standing or even their lives. It still can cost us both. For queer people, the lack of absolute freedom is our default. We have always existed in defiance to the “norm” and society has always fought to keep it that way.
America identifying as the “land of free” has always been quite a laughable sentiment to anyone who has existed on its margins. The United States of America has long postured and held itself in high regard, touting ideals like liberty, justice, and opportunity for all. Those ideals are true of America, but only for a now minority part of the population— cisgender heterosexual white men. The laws and institutions of this country were designed at a time that freedoms and rights were only thought of through the lens of white men. The rest of us have been fighting for just a portion of those freedoms ever since. It is those ideals, and the placing of queer people outside of them, that inhibits both our visibility and acceptance.
America has had a long political history of limiting freedoms for homosexuals. Sodomy laws weren’t all officially off the books until 2003 and there are still no federal laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the workplace throughout the United States. In Indiana, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows owners of businesses to refuse service to people based on their “strongly held religious beliefs.” In short, if you’re queer, they can refuse to serve you and blame it on Jesus. Overturning sodomy laws hardly represents liberation for LGBTQ+ people as a whole, because all queer liberation isn’t defined through the sex acts of gay men, despite the fact that many gay men might beg to differ — but that’s a tea for a different kettle.
We have made some more impactful progress, however. Queer people were included in the protected class status for hate crimes through the Matthew Shepard Act which was signed into law by President Obama in 2009. Our most recent landmark victory came in the form of marriage equality that was passed on June 26th, 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges. While these changes have made way for LGBTQ people to feel a bit safer, they certainly don’t represent the scope of queer liberation nor have they protected queer people from their fellow Americans.
Our current political climate is turbulent to say the least and with a newly vacant Supreme Court seat, the stakes just got even higher. Conservatives have become emboldened by the new administration, using their power, privilege, and bigotry as a license to discriminate. Ohio recently signed into law a bill that allows adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ couples. Just this year, fourteen transgender individuals have been reported victims of homicide. It won’t end unless we focus on ending it.
Our visibility and voice are some of our strongest assets. From RuPaul to Tyler Oakley, we are more visible than ever, but that isn’t enough. That visibility, while important, doesn’t really afford queer people the kinds of protections we need — the ones this country automatically built for cishet white men.
We’ve seen cultural growth in the way that gay people are viewed through television and in the media. Pride celebrations have grown massively over the years and New York City is set to host World Pride in 2019 — for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. This wave of cultural visibility in the face of administrative opposition should be encouraged. We must vote and engage our community in politics. Supporting queer youth and encouraging them to take an active interest in politics is critical. There are quite literally lives at stake.
America has long stood on the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The current administration is a sobering reminder of how those ideals extend to a very select few of us. They can bloviate all they want about making America great, but the reality is, their vision of a great America does not include the dignity of LGBTQ people. It never has. Instead of trying to refocus their lens to include us, we must mobilize as a community to become the photographer.
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