By Naomi Washington-Leapheart
A version of these remarks were offered by Naomi at PFP's Juneteenth Family Pride Picnic on June 18, 2022. (Pictured)
Juneteenth is an occasion to think about the fragile nature of freedom. Freedom can be “granted” to you by somebody else, freedom can be “won” in a military battle, but in a world like ours, where so much has us in chains, actually being able to LIVE in freedom can take days and weeks and months and years.
I think often about those who had gathered at what is now the Reedy Chapel AME Church in Galveston, Texas, on the morning of June 19, 1865. They gathered to hear an impromptu announcement from Union Army General Gordon Granger. I try to appreciate the energy that filled that sanctuary, the energy of proud yet tired Black folks who were still longing for a freedom they didn’t even know was already theirs.
And then I think about how many Black and non-Black LGBTQ people today are officially free but don’t yet know it?
How many of us have spent years toiling in humiliation and shame because nobody ever told us we didn’t have to anymore?
How many of us have spent years in isolation, duped by the people closest to us, who know that homophobia and transphobia ain’t right but still keep it up anyway?
How many of us can look back over our lives with sadness that all those years we spent in chains could have been spent living queer as fuck?
Juneteenth is a celebratory challenge. Juneteenth helps us remember that no, we have not run out of time to be free. Yes, there is still a chance to tap somebody on the shoulder and whisper to them, just like those Union soldiers did in 1865, “You are now free.”
Who can you set free today or tomorrow or next week or next month?
How can we ensure that freedom moves faster - in our neighborhoods and communities, and in the State House and White House?
I raise my fist to honor my ancestors who tasted freedom for the first time on June 19, 1865.
I raise my fist to proclaim that my freedom and your freedom must be enforced, protected, and claimed over and over and over again.
I raise my fist to celebrate freedom as lifestyle. Not a moment. Not a congressional bill. But a way of life.
Would you raise your fist with me and say, Freedom is my lifestyle!
May it be so.