This month we celebrate the Fourth of July with rounds of festivities marking America’s 226 years of independence. However, this July 4th will be the first one since September 11. And scenes of hyper-patriotism are to be expected.
People will be singing the “Star Spangled Banner” or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or reenacting the Continental Congress of 1776 or simply watching reproductions of the “rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air.” All of this and more will be done on a grander and more highly commercialized scale to show ourselves, and the world, our mettle in the face of terrorism.
But America’s need to showcase her indomitable spirit will inevitably come at the expense of the heroism of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. And it will not be the first time America’s Independence Day celebration has overlooked a sector of its population.
I am reminded, for example, of the African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ (1818-1895) historic speech, “What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July?” In it he stated to a country in the throes of slavery, “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence. . . I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. . . This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.”
As LGBT Americans, our patriotism is not recognized or is seen as anti-establishment and un-American. But what we struggle for in this country are the core principles in American democracy stated in the Declaration of Independence: “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.”
As LGBT Americans, our patriotism is not recognized or is seen as anti-establishment and un-American. But what we struggle for in this country are the core principles in American democracy stated in the Declaration of Independence…
One of our greatest moments of patriotism in this last century was the Stonewall Riot of June 27-29, 1969, in Greenwich Village, New York City, and, hence, subsequent annual Pride celebrations. We do not just commemorate the heroism of our LGBT brothers and sisters every June, but we celebrate their heroism everyday as an out-of-the-closet people who are intentionally visible in various factors of American life.
And because of our continued acts of social protest against heterosexism, we are tied to an illustrious history of fighting for freedom in this country.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his Montgomery Bus Boycott speech on December 5, 1955, “The great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.”
When patriotism is narrowly defined, however, it can only be accepted and exhibited within the constraints of its own intolerance. With this form of patriotism, demagogues emerge as patriots espousing an unconditional love for a democratic America. But their love is thwarted, if not contradicted, by their homophobic actions toward LGBT Americans.
When demagoguesâ€š model of patriotism is infused with conservative or fundamentalist tenets of Christianity, this form of patriotism functions like a religion with its litanies of dos and don’ts. And, therefore, Fourth of July celebrations have its commandments that must be upheld in the name of patriotism in the same manner that Sunday worship most be upheld in the name of God.
For the Falwells and Buchanans in our lives, America’s core principles like independence, freedom and justice become desecrated by their religiosity that is fraught with bigotry and hatred, and by a form of patriotism which is only seen within their narrow view of the world.
When people meld religion with patriotism, like the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Buchanan, you have a form of hyper-patriotism where the concepts of “God, Guns and Glory” sadly shape the American landscape. For the Falwells and Buchanans in our lives, America’s core principles like independence, freedom and justice become desecrated by their religiosity that is fraught with bigotry and hatred, and by a form of patriotism which is only seen within their narrow view of the world.
But the Falwells and Buchanans are not the only ones since September 11 showcasing their form of hyper-patriotism. America’s acceptance of racially and religiously profiling Muslims or those who look like or who worship like Muslims is all done in the name of patriotism. This profiling shows that America’s love for herself is so fragile and so vulnerable that she hates the “other.” And that hatred makes the “other” not only suspect to racial or religious profiling but also viewed as un-American.
One of our most famous American heroes is Patrick Henry, who we all know for his famous final words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” in his speech on March 23, 1775, in which he explained how he views himself as the “other.” “No man thinks highly than I do of patriotism . . . but different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs.”
As LGBT people, we are unquestionably seen as the “other.” But our patriotism, shown in the form of Pride celebrations and social protests, is not less American than the Fourth of July extravaganzas that many of us will be a part of this month.
In fact, all acts of celebrating America by way of fighting for civil rights and equal justice are indeed very American and are inextricably linked to America’s core values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.