The Right to Freedom

Freedom and Psychology

Existential psychologists define freedom as “possibility”—being free to explore the many different possibilities for one’s life (May, 1981). Mental illness manifests when people’s access to possibility becomes blocked, paralyzed, and oppressed. People who lose their freedom can become traumatized into apathy, rage, or even insanity. Accordingly, the purpose of psychology is “to set people free” (May, 1981).  This entails liberating human beings from internal and external oppressions, so they can pursue the many possibilities for their lives.

Freedom and the Law

Freedom is considered essential to human existence by national and international law. The U.S. Constitution and the United Nations position freedom as an inalienable human right, as well as the foundation of all other human rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  Specifically, the freedom of expression has been lauded as vital to democracy: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Freedom and the Closet

Heteronormative societies withhold “the right to freedom” from queer people through anti-LGBTQ discriminatory laws that prohibit their self-expression and force them into the closet.  These laws seek to prohibit sexual and gender minorities from expressing their love and affection, their spontaneous bodily mannerisms, and their identities via freedom of speech.  Moreover, though the “right to free speech” is touted as essential to democracy, this right is not conferred to LGBTQ citizens living in homophobic and transphobic societies, who are often not granted legal protection against discrimination if they come out.  “The right to free speech” is also exercised with hypocrisy in society, used by free speech advocates to sustain their right to express anti-LGBTQ hate speech, which further oppresses queer people into the closet. As their freedom is revoked by the closet, LGBTQ people can experience traumatic symptomology such as vigilance, fear, shame, loss of meaning, apathy, rage, and hopelessness that yields suicidality.

Restoring the Right to Freedom

LGBTQ people can restore their right to freedom by finding safe spaces to rebel against the constraints on their freedom– to express same-sex love and desire, to express the truth of their engendered being, and to engage in other natural expressions that would be punished by society.  Even if this freedom of expression cannot be made entirely public, still LGBTQ people can locate safe spaces–be it the privacy of their bedrooms, LGBTQ digital spaces, or local queer organizations and bars–where they can be free to express their beautiful, full humanity.

Society also has a responsibility to restore queer citizens’ right to freedom, such that they can can express themselves freely and explore their possibilities without fearing for their lives by doing so.  Society must consider why LGBTQ citizens’ right to free expression is considered illegal in many countries around the world, and is still not given legal protection against discrimination in most U.S. states. Society must also consider how its current laws confer the right to free speech for hetero and cis citizens but not for LGBTQ people.