Juneteenth commemorates the anniversary of Union General Gordon Granger’s belated announcement of freedom from slavery in Texas on June 19th, 1865, delivered over two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. In directing Confederate states to “recognize and maintain the freedom” of formerly enslaved Black Americans, and to refrain from repressing “any efforts they may make for their actual freedom,” President Lincoln understood that he could not impart actual freedom by the stroke of a pen. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote a century later from a Birmingham jail cell, “Freedom is never given voluntarily by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Black Americans have given their sweat, tears, and too much blood to force freedom forward. Just as the murder of a Black child, Emmett Till, sparked the Civil Rights movement, the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin galvanized a new generation to demand their freedom. Then a nation clutched by a deadly pandemic watched George Floyd take his final agonizing breaths in the NYPD’s clutches. The perennial pestilence of racism in the United States again became front-page news – yet even as “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry, more Black Americans, disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, died gasping for breath. This year, Canadian wildfires caused an air quality crisis that exacerbated existing inequities in exposure to pollutants; asthma rates in Black children are higher than in children of any other ethnicity.
For over four decades, NCLR has been at the forefront of a movement working to achieve freedom for LGBTQ+ people and their families. Our legal, policy, and legislative victories have helped LGBTQ+ Americans across the nation to breathe more easily. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted difficult, long-overdue conversations about the ways in which our movement has centered the goals and voices of the white and the wealthy. Confronting our past is the first step toward doing better in the present to create a more just future for all LGBTQ+ people, by centering the needs and interests of the most vulnerable members of our community.
We who stand for reproductive justice must stand against the medical racism that kills Black mothers and babies. We who stand against hate and violence must stand against the racism, transphobia, and misogyny that kill Black trans women. We who stand for family autonomy must stand against the “child welfare” system that surveils, exploits, and annihilates Black families. We who stand for queer youth facing discrimination, mistreatment, and erasure must also stand against the systems that dehumanize, criminalize, and demoralize Black youth. We who dream of a day when homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are a distant memory must stand with Black Americans in dreaming of – in demanding – actual freedom.
This Juneteenth, we urge every individual and every institution to pause. Take a breath.
Think about what you stand for – and whom you’ve stood up for.
This Juneteenth and every day, NCLR stands with Black Americans demanding freedom, justice, and equity.
Because no one is free until everyone is free.
No one can breathe until everyone can breathe.