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July 3, 2002

Despite It All, America Is Still The Greatest Country

David 'Kip' Koontz

Some years ago it was written that some of our inalienable rights, "granted by God", were those of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Who would ever have thought that those words could be used to apply to certain people and only certain people at certain times?

But, isn't it the truth?

In the name of life and liberty we, as a nation, committed genocide on an entire civilization of native Americans.

It seems obvious by the way we treated them (you know, the Trail of Tears, the breaking of treaty after treaty, driving them onto reservations, etc.) they didn't have a right to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.

Who would have thought that under those ideals we would have enslaved black men and women on whose backs we built a culture and economy?

Who would have thought we'd still have discrimination against black people to this day?

Who would have ever thought that those principles would mean that women get paid 73 cents to the dollar that a man does to perform the same job?

Who would think that in the year 2001 we'd have a black man dragged to death behind a pick-up truck and a young gay man crucified on a fence post?

Were they not entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

No, not according to many.

It is obvious from even reading this website that many believe that only heterosexual, white, "God-fearing," Christian people are the only ones to whom those inalienable rights belong.

They may not be wrong.

You see as we celebrate our independence, we look to the fact that we broke free from the tyranny of a monarch who worked hard to oppress his subjects at every turn.

There were excessive taxes on everything.

There were laws that prevented certain people from owning property.

There was a lot more going on to upset the early patriots.

But the big rub was that for all the injustice they endured, the colonists were not given representation in British government.

This is where some of our problems all began though.

Upon the creation of this new country, those who were granted the right to make decisions and own property were white men of economic means.

In reality, when the words "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" were penned, they, in turn, applied only to white, wealthy men.

Many seem to want it to stay that way today.

The majority of people on death row are black.

The majority of those on welfare or government assistance are white women in rural America.

The bulk of people with no medical plans or prescription coverage are senior citizens.

Those who make the least per hour of work are of Hispanic descent.

Surely we have to be proud (that while we have re-paid Native Americans (by affording them the opportunity to open casinos) that the alcoholism rate among Native American people is the highest of any class of people in this country.

At the same time gays and lesbians are denied equal rights under the law.

Gays generally pay more in taxes, as they are not afforded any type of couple's benefit.

For instance, many jurisdictions make it very difficult for same-sex couples to purchase a house together and even when they do only one person can get tax credits because there is no legal recognition of the couple.

How many people realize that very often, gay people are denied the ability to visit a dying partner because hospitals can refuse visitation rights, as they are not "family" in a blood or legal sense.

Even though in many, many instances the "real family" of the dying doesn't come to the bedside because they have excommunicated their child.

Gays have great difficulty in passing their inheritance to their survivor, as that survivor is not legally recognized.

To add insult to injury, it is possible and completely legal for a blood family member, who had previously excommunicated their gay family member, to rush in and claim a dead gay man or woman's property without a question asked.

In all but 8 states, gays and lesbians can be denied employment or fired, denied housing, or evicted and denied service in public places simply because they are who they are.

Many religious folk say this is God's will.

Our founding themes imply otherwise even though in practice, well...

As we so often hear that our founders were men of God and we must presume then that they were as prone to many kinds of bigotry that many men of God profess today.

Many of their practices bear that out.

I was raised to believe that the United States of America was the greatest nation on earth.

I still do. Despite its flaws. Despite corrupt politicians who seem to be only out for themselves, not the people they represent.

In spite of the fact that while I have always respected our country, many of my fellow countrymen have disrespected me - for one reason and one reason alone.

I have flown the flag - regularly even before 9-11, which made many people sudden patriots.

I have volunteered in countless ways to help others and to participate in the spirit of our community.

I have done this, in spite of being denied equal protection under the law.

My "life" has afforded me the opportunity to have been asked to leave my home church when I was 14, because the pastors there pronounced that I was gay and that those type of people were not welcome in church.

My "liberty" denies me the right to legally marry the person whom I love more than anyone else in the world.

My "pursuit of happiness" has afforded me the opportunity to be shouted at on a most regular basis, something along the lines of "hey faggot" or "**** you faggot," or the best is of course, "die faggot."

I was raised in a household where you were taught that all people were created equal. My mother tells the story that as a teenager she befriended the only black girl who was integrated into her school.

She saw nothing wrong with it.

Her "friends" did and subsequently ignored her and ridiculed her.

I was raised in a household where I was taught that anyone could become president of the United States of America.

Or at least a governor, senator or congressman.

Well maybe a delegate or alderman.

As long as you were genuinely willing to help others.

I thought that was a keen idea, a great thing. That anyone could grow up and truly work to help people in that manner.

Too bad our presidency (and much of our political system) has become as corrupt as it has, but at the time the thought made me proud and honored to be an American.

Now, I just wish that they had told me that rule didn't apply to little boys from Hagerstown who happen to grow to be big gay men in Frederick.

I wish my family had the foresight and understanding of how deep and wide prejudice and bigotry really are in this country.

As we celebrate this 4th of July I will celebrate as I was taught to do and still enjoy doing, by flying flags and displaying bunting.

By playing CD's of marches and patriotic music until my friends and neighbors tire of it.

By having friends over and having a barbecue, then watching the fireworks burst over Baker Park.

Yet, I have to feel sorry for my grandmother looking down on the festivities from heaven.

You see, I know she wishes there were something she could do to make discrimination and bigotry end, so that my dream as a boy to be president could come true.

I know she wishes she could do something to undo all that has happened that has caused me to become somewhat disillusioned as to what it means to be an American.

I just hope she realizes it isn't her fault.

She did the right things.

We just have to hold out hope that one day there will be a time where "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" applies equally to some other little boy who is growing up gay so that he may get to be elected president after all.

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