Oh hai. So, we just celebrated another year of freedom in the good ol' USA. Hot dogs, pies, chips, soda, and fireworks aside, did you really stop to think what you were celebrating?

It's sad, but the truth is freedom from the grips of homophobia remains a distant dream.

It's fitting then that one of the biggest homophobes to ever walk the halls of Congress died on the 4th of July. On the same day that Senator Barack Obama – America's first African-American presidential candidate – celebrated American freedom at a holiday picnic, the self-admitted bigot, former Republican Senator Jesse Helms, drew his last breath at age 86.

Helms had no problems calling gays “weak, morally sick wretches” and blacks “niggers.” His conscious, if he had one, left him free to say, “I'm a conservative progressive, and that means I think all men are equal, be they slants, beaners, or niggers.”

There was little need to speak to Helms about facts, his homophobia had achieved such critical mass that it tainted all rational thoughts. While attempting to block AIDS funding in 1995 he would say that all cases of AIDS were the result of sodomy. When Ryan White's mother came to testify before Congress of her son's death from AIDS after contracting the disease from a contaminated blood treatment, Helms refused to even acknowledge her.

It was the mere fact that some gay men would benefit from AIDS funding that he opposed saving countless millions – including the lives of young children who were hemophiliacs, like Ryan White.

As he would gray, and after countless clashes with gay activists, Helms would soften his stand on AIDS funding. But he never offered an apology to the millions of lives lost as a consequence of his homophobia.

Here the former senator poses for a picture.

If you think Helms' passing is the end of anything, you need only read these stories:

On Thursday, the Christian group American Family Association (AFA) announced a boycott of McDonald's over its support for gays and lesbians.

The association declared that Ronald McDonald was pushing a side order of “gay agenda” along with each Happy Meal. They point to McDonald's' membership and monetary support of the National Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) as proof that the company loves homos.

Well, I'm loving it.

In Arizona, Republican dirty tricks helped ensure passage of Arizona's November ballot initiative to amend their constitution to ban gay marriage. A similar measure in 2006 was rejected by Arizona voters.

Openly out lesbian Arizona Senator Paula Aboud said she was “betrayed” by a certain Republican senator who “failed to be absent on the final day of the [legislative] session.” Even with the necessary votes to pass the amendment, desperate Republican leaders shut off debate to make certain the measure would come-up for a vote before the clock ran out.

There was some good news this week. Such as the huge gay pride festival in Madrid, Spain where Spaniards celebrated recent gay marriage victories. And New Jersey Representative Steve Rothman (Democrat) announced this week that he now favors gay marriage. The lawmaker said he changed his mind after his stepdaughter, who is a lesbian, convinced him.

And it was our own Gay Entertainment Report that brought me news that the transgender film The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela had won another award.The film added the Showtime Vanguard Award to its growing collection at Newfest, New York's gay & lesbian film festival.

The Gay Slant pops-in most Saturdays at On Top Magazine. Walter Weeks is a writer for On Top and can be reached at ww@ontopmag.com.