Today is the 4th of July, 2020: Independence Day in these United States. And in my lifetime, we have rarely been more divided. Not just politically, but in our opposition or support of America’s criminal justice system, our social media, our response to a national health crisis, and in the denial or embrace of science.
Caught in the middle, or at times entirely forgotten, is our LGBTQ population. Most history books leave out gays, lesbians, bisexuals and what we today call transgender people in the telling of the colonists’ declaration of independence from their English oppressors. Perhaps that is why you have not heard of Baron Friedrich von Steuben.
As history.com notes, the Prussian military man was hired by Gen. George Washington “to whip the Continental Army into shape during the darkest days of the Revolutionary War.”
Not only was he known for his bravery and the discipline and grit he brought to the American troops, but historians also think he was gay — and served openly in the military despite sex between men being punished as a crime.
“Though his name is little known among Americans today,” wrote Erick Trickey for Smithsonian magazine, “every U.S. soldier is indebted to von Steuben—he created America’s professional army.”
So in the spirit of Baron Friedrich von Steuben, here are thoughts and reflections from Outsports’s LGBTQ friends, out athletes and coaches, and some of my colleagues — as well as you, our readers — about Independence Day 2020, beginning with my own.
This holiday means I have finally won the right not to be fired for being who I am, while losing my 4th of July tradition of taking in a baseball game, in order for all of us to be safe.
Click on the names to find out more about those who shared their thoughts, and to follow them on social media. And then add your own perspective in the comments below.
R.K. RUSSELL, NFL player, author and poet:
“I see July 4th as a great day to have a BBQ and celebrate a country that gave me football but not as a day that gave my people and me freedom. I celebrate Juneteenth the way others celebrate the fourth of July, and that’s my reality. But all in all, it’s a great day for a family BBQ.”
JUSTICE HORN, community organizer:
“What Independence Day means to me is a day that we celebrate our independence and freedom, but everyone is not free. We live in a country where LGBTQ+ people and people of color don’t have the same freedom to pursue education, housing, jobs, and economic advancement compared to our white cisgender heterosexual counterparts. This year, we saw the conversation and celebration of intersectionality with the Black Lives Matter Movement, but let me be clear, Independence day is not a day for those that come from disenfranchised communities. As a LGBTQ+ person of color, I will be dedicating the 4th of July to remember the Indigenous people who were slaughtered to form this country and my black ancestors who built it. Because of everything that has happened in the past couple of months, I’m proud to say I am a Multicultural LGBTQ+ individual in America.”
RYAN O’CALLAGHAN, former NFL player:
“Independence Day has always meant the same thing to me; A celebration of the birth of America and our freedoms. Even though we are not the ‘most free’ country in the world, it is a day to celebrate and appreciate the freedoms we do have.”
KARLEIGH CHARDONNAY WEBB, Outsports contributor and athlete:
“July 4, 2020 represents something our nation should do at age 244… GROW UP.
“This Independence Day finds our nation having to deal with its national immaturity. COVID, race relations, LGBTQ relations, our body politics, our place in the world. These are things we need to ponder and this is perfect time to do it. July 4, 2020 represents another example for this nation to rise above its flaws and evolve. The kind of nation we will be in the years ahead with resolve in how we answer these challenges now. We have seen a glimpse of the future, it is our decision and our challenge.”
ANTHONY NICODEMO, coach and union leader:
“The United States is a progressive nation. Sometimes it takes longer than we’d like to achieve our goals, but we eventually get there. To me, Independence Day is the day to celebrate what we’ve done and where we hope we will be.”
KAITLYN LONG, Minneapolis-based advocate and former track and field athlete:
“This year 4th of July feels a lot different to me. The 4th of July to me used to be a fun day filled with being outdoors, grilling out, fireworks, and friends and family. With everything that’s going on in our country I think there’s been a shift in many people’s attitudes because there’s been a light shed on the flaws in the foundation that our country was built on. As a Black LGBT woman I experience the consequences of these flaws on a daily basis. The principle of liberty and justice for all that our country was founded on isn’t an accurate depiction of the struggles that many LGBT, POC, disabled, poor people (etc.) face trying to gain our basic human rights in this country. So, although the 4th of July is a fun holiday I think it’s important to remember that the freedom we celebrate isn’t really freedom until everyone is free and has equality.”
ANDREW JAMES FORD, former soccer athlete with plans to become a police officer:
“Independence to me this year is marking my stand to support my brothers and sisters who are being oppressed. This is my stand as a future LGBTQ+ Police Officer. celebrating the change I will bring as an officer!!”
FALLON FOX, trailblazing transgender MMA athlete:
“For me, this Independence Day observes the escape from tyranny for some and not others. This has been the case each year. But this year, the observation is more visible. I think it’s safe at this point to say straight white cisgender men as a whole are the only ones who escaped the tyranny of themselves while becoming tyrants to the rest of the population. This is more their holiday than anyone else’s. So, kudos to them for the joy of reaping its benefits.”
MICAH PORTER, school principal and LGBTQ youth sports advocate:
“It is actually quite personal, when I reflect on it. From growing up in rural Michigan farmland, watching fireworks put on by the local firemen amongst a rather raucous and sheltered crowd of drunks and hillbillies… to watching fireworks over the lake at my grandparents’ cottage… watching the skiers on the lake with a youthful yet cautious eye… to my heterosexual marriage and the pure joy of watching your children as they soak in the wonder of the day and the beauty and surreal nature a fireworks show… to some of my first and most enjoyable moments with my Brandan… I never knew that I could have such feelings of attraction and gravity towards another person.
“Sitting in the grass in the Highlands watching the fireworks over Denver. With him… with Brandan. I had discovered happiness. Today, July 4th reminds me of the work that has been done to truly bring equality for all, but more importantly a reminder (with fireworks) of what yet needs to be done.”
CHRIS MOSIER, groundbreaking transgender athlete and advocate:
“On July 4, when we are supposed to be celebrating our country, I always think of how incredible it is that I can represent my country in the highest levels of competition in my sport, but trans kids can’t play high school sports in states like Idaho.”
ALEX REIMER, Outsports deputy managing editor, journalist and broadcaster:
“On this Independence Day, I will be reflecting on how fortunate I am to have a loving family and friends. It sounds simplistic, but over the last several months I have truly realized how stronger we are together.”
JAYCEE COOPER, transgender powerlifter and advocate:
“It would take on a lot more meaning if there was independence and freedom of oppression for all people. The world is calling out for justice for ALL Black lives, that is where true independence resides. The people are calling out for Queer and Trans liberation, that is where true freedom lives.”
RACHEL McBRIDE, non-binary athlete and pro triathlete:
“I think that Independence Day right now, in the context of the the current environment is in the turmoil that is occurring in the country for all for so many folk who are struggling and who have been systemically oppressed. I think that it is a day that needs to be used for reflection and for activism, for elevating those voices who have been oppressed, Because although the country may be celebrating this Independence Day, there are still many people who don’t really have that independence, who don’t have that equal opportunity.”
HARRISON BROWNE, actor and pioneering transgender hockey player, now retired:
“As a Canadian, it’s hard for me to say what a day rooted in American History means to me. I did live in America for the majority of my adult life, and as an outsider looking in on the climate right now in America, I would say it feels like lack of equality right now. A lot of people I’ve seen in the media are using America’s heritage to validate racist, homophobic and transphobic stances and actions. Whether that’s accurate or these people are skewing what America means to them to fit their hateful rhetoric, it shows that America has work to do (as does Canada) to ensure true equality and freedom for all its citizens.”
JOHN CARVALHO, Ph.D., journalism professor:
“To me, the 4th is about quaint symbols — fireworks, community picnics, Uncle Sam, red-white-and-blue bunting — that overshadow a reality that so many people are not truly free. My dream is that our LGBTQ+ fellow Americans could experience freedom and acceptance to the point that the aforementioned symbols are just as quaint (and corny) to them.”
KEN SCHULTZ, Outsports contributor, stand-up comic and Cubs fan supreme:
“America is OK because it still contains Chicago. Honestly, I’ve never been less enthusiastic about the 4th of July in my life and I’m in no mood to celebrate.”
What does Independence Day mean to you? Add your own perspective in the comments below!