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Being an American
Being an American
by Jennifer Vanasco - SGN Contributing Writer

What does it mean to be an American?

Some people seem to think it means wearing a flag pin. Or slapping a "Support Our Troops" bumper sticker on the family auto. Or singing "God Bless America." Or putting our hand over our hearts when the national anthem plays.

But these things have nothing to do with being an American at all. They are only rituals, expressions of blind patriotism. They are, I suppose, a sign of nominal respect, but really they are lip service. Anyone, after all, can wave the American flag, no matter what they believe.

No, to be an American is to cradle American values in our hearts - and the first of these is our bone-deep love of liberty.

We show this love not by proclaiming it or wearing it on our sleeve, but by acting in its service - that is, by exercising our political rights. By voting, for example. Or running for office. Or speaking out to ensure that the state recognizes that we are all created with certain inalienable rights, and whether we are Gay or straight, we should have access to them.

Not long ago, I visited Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell was the abolitionist icon and it should be the Gay icon, too. The bell hangs solidly now in a fragile glass room, overwhelming the visitors who solemnly stand beside it to have their pictures taken. It hasn't pealed since 1846, and yet the message it rings out is explosive.

"Proclaim liberty," it reads, "throughout all the land."

Liberty is a dangerous notion. It means that the poorest have as many rights as presidents; that someone doesn't need moral approval from the majority in order to be a full citizen.

We are moved by the Liberty Bell, but it isn't because of its craftsmanship. No, we love the Liberty Bell because of the crack that divides the bronze without sundering it.

We love the bell for reminding us both that freedom is vulnerable and that divisions of opinion don't destroy it.

America is that bell. Solid, loud, divided in its unity. That very division, in fact, is what makes us American. Homogeneity is for dictatorships, theocracies, kingdoms. Diversity and division, not obedience and trust, is what ultimately gives strength and beauty to democracy.

Liberty means freedom, and we now understand that freedom is the ability to have full political agency, whether you're male or female, black or white, Gay or straight. To be an American is to exercise this agency. To be a Gay American is to remind others that there is nothing more American than fighting for our fundamental rights.

Unlike flag pins or car stickers, the Liberty Bell isn't a symbol about bowing to blind patriotism. It isn't about doing things the way they've always been done in order to convince someone (who?) that you're a good American.

The Liberty shows us that to be a good American, in fact, is to keep liberty - not patriotism - in our hearts.

For Gay citizens, this is especially important. No one needs to approve of us. Not the president, not the courts, not the legislature, not a majority of citizens. Approval is not what we're seeking. And the Liberty Bell isn't about that, isn't about moral approval. It's about the clear, deep tone of freedom.

What GLBTs are looking for is what is promised to every American - liberty and the freedom to pursue happiness.

I love how Independence Day follows Pride so closely each year. They seem to go together, pride and independence. America was won not because people bowed to the conservative majority - majorities are always conservative - but because they rebelled.

They didn't go along to get along. They took risks and fought for their rights as citizens and human beings.

This is what we do, too. Every day that LGBTs march for our rights, write our Congressional representatives, expose governmental hypocrisy on our blogs, talk to others about equality, is a day that we are taking a stand for liberty.

Pride shouldn't stop - doesn't stop - at the end of June. It continues into July, where the Gay story becomes part of the American story.

Let's ring our bell. Fighting for equal rights is fighting for liberty. And in America, liberty rings for us all.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning columnist. She edits the political blog E-mail her at

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