World Pride and the Continued Resonance of FDR’s Four Freedoms

By Paul Brandeis Raushenbush

I recently took my two sons to Roosevelt Island to visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. in large part, we went because we could take a ferry there and my four-year old is obsessed with boats and any day with a boat ride is a really a good day.   

We had toured the FDR Four Freedoms Park before.  Designed by Louis Kahn, the park on the south tip of Roosevelt Island opens with an enormous staircase leading up to an expanse of grass overlooking the East River that flows down to a large cement block with a bust of FDR on one side and the Four Freedoms etched on the other.  

On this visit, the park had been transformed in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall. In addition to simple games set up on the grass, music playing anthems like “We are Family” and a crowded Drag Queen Story Hour, the park had turned the dramatic staircase into New York City’s largest Pride flag.  

We had a grand time as Walter ran up and down the staircase, and then blasted off down the grass to the area where the Four Freedoms are displayed, with his papa and baby Glenn in hot pursuit. There we rested, as I re-read the Four Freedoms and reflected on how much they continue to resonate in our current moment today when oppression, fear and intimidation are given license from the highest office in the land.

The Four Freedoms were first articulated in a historic State of the Union address given by FDR in 1941 as the Nazis were waging their devastating war in Europe. Roosevelt told the American People:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want…everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear…anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.

The Four Freedoms offered a vision of hope for the future during the war, and were foundational to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that were established after the war. While the Four Freedoms offer universal ideals, they apply to the particular struggle for full equality of the LGBTQI communities and encapsulate the freedoms I want as a gay man and for my family.

Freedom of Speech and Expression are fundamental to queer rights as we seek to show up as authentically who we are and who we love. For me to fully express myself is to be able to love my husband Brad and to say “I do” legally to our marriage and to having our two children.  Freedom of expression feels especially relevant to the trans community who are constantly being policed and censured for who they know themselves to be, and restricted in where and how they can show up as fully human and fully American – whether that is in restrooms or in the military.  

Freedom To Worship God in Our Own Way is personal for me as I am both a gay man and an ordained Christian minister.  Yet there are some out there who try to portray my faith and my life as not having full worth and who view religious liberty as something that is meant to allow for bigotry or to not serve my family. The freedom to worship as we choose should not be confused with a freedom to oppress others.  Queer people come from every faith background and deserve freedom to worship, or not worship, in our own way.  

Freedom from Want feels especially powerful for queer youth who are too often thrown out of their houses, living on the streets, with some estimates that 40% of all homeless youth are LGBTQI identified.  Freedom from Want can also apply to the fact that in over half of the states in the U.S. that people can legally be fired for being part of the LGBTQI community. Health care, food, water, housing are all essential for freedom of all people, and LGBT people are no exception.

Freedom from Fear is unfortunately the common denominator of it all.  I hate to say it, but I am afraid to show most public displays of affection with my partner because I know what could happen to us, and to our family.  Hate crimes are surging and already this year 10 Transgender women have been killed, most whom were Black. Freedom from racist violence, freedom from fear as an immigrant, as a woman –  freedom from fear just to be, is foundational for all queer people to be who we are. Freedom from fear and intimidation was part of the spark that ignited the Stonewall Uprising 50 years ago, and freedom from fear is the reason that we still march today. 

The LGBT uprising at that Greenwich Village Bar five decades ago is now observed around the world, and many countries call their Pride celebrations “Stonewall.” The Four Freedoms were not intended for the people of the United States alone. After each freedom were the words: “Everywhere in the world.”  LGBT liberation is not only a domestic issue, but calls us to be allies with queer people who are struggling around the globe, who are seeking a life with the freedom to express who they are, worship as they want, be free from want, and free from fear.

I’m grateful to the FDR Four Freedoms Park for specifically celebrating Pride month and reminding me of the Four Freedoms that continue to be foundational to human rights as well as beacons calling us towards a future where all might live free.

Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush is Senior Vice President of Auburn Seminary and Editor of Voices. 

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