The elusive definition of the word freedom escapes us with the same evasiveness as love. We may not know what it means be free; however, on some level we all want freedom. But as age creeps me ever forward to the increasingly inevitable, I realize more and more that freedom is not a place we arrive at and hold to permanently.
I see freedom as phases, periods, and points. I've also discovered these places of freedom are so different for so many. What is freedom for one is not freedom for another. Freedom from an abusive relationship means nothing to the one who seeks freedom from mountains of financial debt. Freedom from a narcissistic employer means nothing to one who seeks freedom from religious bondage. I've also discovered the transitioning into freedom can be as painful as the death of a loved one; because letting go of the familiar (healthy or not) can plunge one into the stages of mourning.
On the night June 27, 1969, did the drag queens in New York set out to fight for freedom? Did they sit at their make-up mirrors and brainstorm the makings of a rebellion? Did they stare into the closet and say aloud, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢”šÂ¬Ã…”what does one wear to a riot?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢”šÂ¬Ã‚Â Was there a countdown to the rumble as they were loaded into the Paddy Wagons? Was there a militant planning committee at the Stonewall Inn, or maneuvers to plan the offensive?
More often than not an uprising takes place suddenlyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢”šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âwhen the person and/or group just can't take anymore. Some take years to plan the path to freedom. And sometimes we resign ourselves to the plan and never go past the planning stages. Some retreat into reclusiveness, while others take to the streets and burst out into violence. Whatever the path, the goal is the same. What we can find is comparable to the al Qaeda, once one oppressor is cut out, three more emerge. So then we discover the pursuit of freedom is a never-ending quest.
In our community, the quest for freedom takes on new twists, turns or faces with every new generation, every newly elected politician and every openly LGBT celebrity. The traditions must be instilled and the responsibility grows with each new person. The Pride marches, rallies, lobbyist, and every LGBT organization know that the road to freedom is a constant and costly effort. We are constantly paying the costly price of lives that slip through the cracks of the onslaught of the Religious Right, and ignorant citizens that depend only on the pundit's opinions to inform them. Education and celebration is the key.
As a kid growing up in stringent Pentecostal churches there were 10 don'ts for every do. I really didn't mind. If anything, it taught me discipline. When I began to stretch my wings, the first thing I wanted to do is try every don't. The prison doors were opened and I began to flyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢”šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âor so I thought. But crashing and burning became lessons well learned. And now I see it for what it was. In tasting what the world had to offer I was actually stepping into a prison of my own design. What I thought was freedom was just moments of pleasure that had consequence. It taught me quickly that freedom was not doing what I wanted, because what I wanted was detrimental to my health and to my spirit.
Continuing in a facade of simulated freedom would cost me my liberty.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢”šÂ¬Ã…”With freedom comes responsibility.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢”šÂ¬Ã‚Â The responsibility lies within each of us to continue the journey toward freedom. Though the journey may be painful at times we must know, remember, and be willing to acknowledge that we journey not only for ourselves, but for all those on the journey with us and those to come. It is our responsibility to keep waving the banner, keep marching, fighting, lobbying, asking the questions, and questioning the answers.
For only if we continue, will we find the exquisite joy in the journey.
We honor those who fought for freedom: song writers, speech writers, movie writers and musicians, singers and song writers, documentary writers and networks, and the producers of all of the aforementioned; pastors, preachers, and teachers who dared to take a stand. Men, women, and children who stood in the face of oppressors of each movement in history should be remembered this Pride season as well as the ones who laid down their lives under the hands of those who tried to stamp out the messages. From the greatest to the small, from the loudest to the quiet, the struggle doesn't end with them, it continues in and with us.
The freedom you enjoy, from the slightest to the most was fought for and achieved by someone who came before you. We cannot be content to let their struggle be forgotten or taken advantage of. We must appreciate the freedom if we are ever to gain more ground.
Please remember it's the phases, periods, and points that matter. Because accumulatively these moments will take you to more levels of freedom you didn't even know existed. Not only will you live a life of freedom, but so will all those you touch, and all those who come after.
Rev. Scott Manning is the founder of Last Child Ministries in Tampa.