12 Quotes About Freedom from Queer and Trans People of Color to Meditate on This Independence Day

When I was 11 or 12 years old, my family started a tradition. On the morning of Independence Day, after breakfast and before we left for any cookout, we would read “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” by Fredrick Douglass.

On the day of this country’s founding, the black people who worked our soil and built our nation were only considered to be 3/5ths of a person – to be frank, even that fraction is generous. Indigenous communities were raped, stolen from, pillaged. Freedom was not the same for all of us. As I’m writing this post from the relative safety of my home, military tanks are lining up in the in our nation’s capital and concentration camps are holding human beings hostage at our border. Freedom is still not the same for all of us.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – that’s  the American promise. It’s one we’ve never accomplished, an ever drifting horizon. Still, I believe in the work. I believe that every one of us has the responsibility to do our part and fix what’s broken. I believe in the unfinished project of America – its struggle, its activism.

I will not celebrate Freedom on the Fourth of July because American Freedom For All is a myth at best, an outright lie at worst. Instead, today I honor those who do the thankless labor of pushing our country towards being a better version of itself. Those who have been spat on, arrested, ignored, called despicable. Those who have felt the brunt of American violence and still choose to believe in an America that has yet to believe in them.

James Baldwin once said, “”I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” That’s what inspired this project. Queer and trans people of color know more about the ugliness of America than most. But we’re still here. We’re still fighting for our liberation.

Let us lift up those voices today.

James Baldwin, Writer

Gloria Anzaldúa, Writer

Audre Lorde, Writer

Beth Brant, Writer

Barbara Jordan, Politician and US House of Representatives

Cherríe Moraga, Writer

Barbara Smith, Scholar and Activist

Marsha P. Johnson, Trans Rights Activist

Cecelia Chung, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Transgender Law Center

Ocean Vuong, Poet

Chrystos, Poet

Sylvia Rivera, Trans Rights Activist

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Carmen Phillips

Carmen Phillips is Autostraddle's former editor in chief. She began at Autostraddle in 2017 as a freelance team writer and worked her way up through the company, eventually becoming the EIC from 2021-2024. A Black Puerto Rican feminist writer with a PhD in American Studies from New York University, Carmen specializes in writing about Blackness, race, queerness, politics, culture, and the many ways we find community and connection with each other.  During her time at Autostraddle, Carmen focused on pop culture, TV and film reviews, criticism, interviews, and news analysis. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. And there were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. To reach out, you can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram, or her website.

Carmen has written 716 articles for us.


  1. Thanks for this.
    I’ve always been uncomfortable with celebrating the 4th of July. It feels like everyone wants to pretend that America is perfect. I can get behind using the day to focus on striving towards a better promise.
    Now I’m gonna go see how many of the authors from this list are in my local library.

  2. Wow. Wonderful, challenging, hopeful quotes. Will be reflecting today. Thank you.

  3. These are all amazing, Carmen. They reminded me of a poem by Chamorro poet Craig Santo Perez. It’s about what Memorial Day means to Pacific Islanders, but still.

    Memorial Day in the Pacific, 2016

    america declares federal holiday, we
    mourn daily. america says 3-day weekend,
    we recite 9-day prayers. america plays
    sunday night football, we hail mary, full
    of death, the lord fumbled. america
    barbeques, yet no matter how much we eat,
    the chairs around the table are still
    empty. america marks the beginning
    of summer, grief is our endless sea
    -son. america marches

    in parades, we dust photo albums.
    america blooms flowers and fireworks,
    we wilt and ashes. america observes
    a moment of silence, we miss
    their voices. america says national
    cemetery, we say mass grave. america
    waves its flag, yet our flags are too tightly
    folded. america sings “land of the free,”
    we whisper “continent of thieves.”

    america says recruiter’s paradise,
    we say home. america dons uniforms,
    we covered in shrouds. america pledges
    allegiance, our heartbeats, a continuous
    gun salute. america recounts names
    of the dead, we count the stolen
    generations. america thanks us for
    our sacrifice, we bow before our
    cruel god. god commands, “be
    all you can be,” we ask “when
    will we ever be

  4. My knowledge of the past, Divine Right of Kings, feudalism etc makes the spirit of James Baldwin and Barbara Johnson’s quotes you chose vibrate through me like a drumline.

    The Pursuit is unfinished with many miles to go.

  5. Thank you, Carmen. Today I’m thinking about how I can be a better ally and friend to people who have different identities than I do.

  6. This is incredible. Thank you.
    @c-p Would you mind if I posted the headline (and your name) and these quotes in my govt office? I don’t have social media, so I have to find other ways to lift up voices and share autostraddle content.

Comments are closed.