As Pride Month comes to a close and Independence Day approaches, freedom has been a hot topic. While the word itself often signifies a fundamental, innate tenet upon which this nation was born, recent times have shown just how fluid of a concept freedom is.
Two years ago, the LGBT community was celebrating marriage equality becoming the law of the land. Freedom to many at that time meant the ability to finally wed their partners, to join their names on legal documents, to create a family with fewer burdens. But just one year later, 49 people were gunned down at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando. The LGBT community was forced to re-examine the basic freedoms the incident threatened: the ability to be oneself, and associate as a community, without fear of violence or death. Weddings and legal paperwork took an immediate backseat.
That back-and-forth seems to have been a recurring theme throughout LGBT history; when one hard-fought victory is won, another can cripple the community. Harvey Milk was elected in a historic move for LGBT representation in government, only to be gunned down. AIDS funding would be boosted in one part of the country and lost in another. A trans woman of color would grace the cover of a national magazine as record numbers of trans women of color become victims of violence. And LGBT rights flourish under a progressive president only to be quickly yanked back by his successor.
Freedom is a contextual concept, one that evolves with our progress and our pitfalls. In times of community successes, freedom may seem to be a finite, attainable goal, while in times of extreme crisis, the freedoms we once coveted may seem luxurious. What that dichotomy shows is that, while little is out of reach, little should be taken for granted.
Our country and community are at interesting pinnacles right now; we’ve experienced tremendous gains but also seen the work that has fallen by the wayside. As a country, we’ve rebounded from a crippling recession but many blue-collar workers are suffering the impacts of globalization. As a community, we’ve won marriage equality and many other rights, but our most marginalized — trans individuals, elders, youth — continue to face serious hardships.
Embracing our potential should be tempered by acknowledging the many gaps that need to be bridged — and the many more that need to be traversed as the concept of freedom continues its evolution.