Tag Archives: freedom

Liberty and Justice for All: A Work in Progress

Here are some words that are familiar to most Americans:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

They are the most commonly quoted words from that famous document signed on July 4, 1776 which marked the beginning of the North American colonies’ fight for Independence from the British crown.  I suspect that those words will be remembered and even invoked by many today, 236 years later as those of us in the United States celebrate our Independence Day.

What occurs to me as I think on those words, however, is that while they are sweeping and have far-reaching implications (despite the fact that they are gender exclusive), they were penned, signed onto, and embraced by men who applied them in a much more limited fashion.  After all, many of our nation’s great founders and lovers of liberty owned slaves, denying those slaves their own liberty.  In fact, it would be almost a full century after the Declaration of Independence was signed that its principle of the God-given, inalienable right to liberty would be recognized for slaves.

I don’t say this to demonize our founding fathers.  I say this to point out that, as great as they were, they were men, perfectly imperfect and equally capable of not seeing how their principles need to be applied to all people.  I say this to remind us on this holiday that we should not merely celebrate our independence — or freedom, as it is more often (at least to my mind) called.  We should continue to make liberty for all a greater reality, because that great work started by those great men over two centuries ago has not been accomplished in full.

So today, I offer a small list of the many liberties that I see as lacking and in need of greater support and defense:

  • Young black men still need the liberty to walk through certain neighborhoods without immediately being treated with suspicion.
  • Women still need the liberty to pick out their clothing without worrying about how others — particularly — men will view and treat them based on their attire.
  • Same sex couples still need the liberty to walk in public arm-in-arm or holding hands without the fear of being harassed or assaulted.
  • Workers need (to keep) the liberty to form unions so that they can better bargain and fight for their needs in the face of the corporate interests of their employers.

This is just a small list.  There are many different people in this great country that values freedom who still struggle to maintain and gain some basic freedoms, both constitutional and otherwise.  I would encourage others to add to my list in the comments.  I would also say that while we celebrate our freedom today, let us keep in mind that freedom is a much more perfect and comprehensive prospect than we — much like our founding fathers — fully realize.  And let us continue to work to see that perfect and comprehensive prospect fully explored and fully realized.

In a Small Alcove at Susquehanna University

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...

Image via Wikipedia

I came out to myself and my best friend at the time on Monday, 1 April 1996.  Tomorrow, 1 April 2011 marks the fifteenth anniversary of that event.  In honor of that, I’ve decided to do a series of posts on the topic.  This is the first one.

My mind floats back fifteen years ago — almost to the day — and a few hundred miles away.  I can still remember what it was like that night, sitting in the cloth-covered chair with wooden arm rests that sat in the tiny alcove of the first floor of Seibert Hall.  I never knew which professors had their offices there, but the place was familiar.  I chose that place to meet Merion because not only was it relatively secluded from the bustle of campus nightlife (or what passed for campus nightlife on a Monday night), but it was a place both of us knew well.  It was the same tiny alcove that the Bible study we both attended — and I eventually became coleader of — met once a week the year before.

I needed that familiarity to help calm my nerves.  It didn’t work, because I was a complete wreck.  I think it took me over five minutes to build up the courage — that is, to grit my teeth hard enough — to utter those two words:  “I’m gay.”

I hadn’t said those words prior to that moment, and that was a big thing.  Oh sure, I had admitted that I was attracted to guys.  I had even told a number of people.  But I had mostly said “I’m struggling with homosexuality” or something like that.  Up to this point, I had made it clear that I didn’t want to feel this way.  The closest I had come to those two words were a few weeks earlier when I told my friend, Joyce, “I think I might be gay.”*  Even then, I had left myself the escape hatch.  I may have started to realize I was losing the “ex-gay struggle,” but I hadn’t “conceded defeat” yet.

That night, sitting in that chair and facing Merion in the the chairs twin to my right, I made that concession.  And it was hard to do, because I knew exactly what I was doing.  It was terrifying to do it, even though I knew that Merion would be completely supportive, as she had already came out to me as bisexual** about a year earlier.

I think by the time I said it and for the first several minutes after I made my confession, I was actually shaking.  I was that worked up.  Merion was wonderful though.  She was encouraging.  She was supportive.  She was incredible.  I don’t really remember much of what she said to me, other than the fact that she told me how honored she was that I chose to tell her.  The rest of the details, however, blur into the emotional chaos I was going through at the time.

But that also marked the beginning of the end of the emotional chaos.  I escaped the prison of fear and shame that day.  I ran out screaming — almost literally.  And while things didn’t get instantly better, the process of improvement began.  It’s taken me years to clean up the mess I was left with, and in some ways, I’m still cleaning it up.  (I’ll talk about that more tomorrow.)  But that moment moved me into a place in my journey where I could face that task, no matter how daunting it seemed at times.

* And Joyce, in her well-meaning but less-than-helpful way, glibly responded by saying, “It’s about time you figured it out.”  Seriously folks, I know sometimes you can tell that a loved one is gay before they’re able or willing to admit it to even themselves.  But this is not the way to respond when they finally confide in you.  If you must tell them you already figured it out, do so in the gentlest way possible.  Otherwise, it can come across as you dishonoring their choice to be completely open and vulnerable to you in a way which was probably took a lot of courage on their part.

** That night, Merion clarified that she was a lesbian.  She was one of those people who originally came out as bisexual because it was easier to take that as a step towards coming out as strictly gay.  And no, that does not mean that everyone who says they’re bi is doing so.  There are authentically bisexual people out there, too.  The fact that there are some people in the gay community who refuse to accept that is a personal pet peev of mine.