Unequal in life, equal in death

Posted on 08 Sep 2011 at 1:05pm

As we remember the victims and heroes of 9/11, we should remember that LGBT people were part of each group

HARDY HABERMAN  |  Flagging Left

As our country commemorates the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11, we will be bombarded with endless images of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers ablaze and lots of handheld video of people in terror. From the standpoint of the effect of the attack, it caused the terror it was designed to cause, and moreover, it focused us on frightening images of explosions and disaster.

Great media stuff, but not very good for getting perspective.

Yet, the whole event has become part of the American portrait. It was history and as such it will always be with us.

Aside from the terror, 9/11 did draw the country together. One of the most encouraging things about Americans is how we react when the going gets tough: We pitch in and try to help. We act with a selflessness that is a heartening example of what is best about our country.

And part of that American portrait are the LGBT people who fell victim to the attack, as well as those who stepped up and become heroes that day.

Most of us are now familiar with Father Mychal Judge, chaplain for the New York Fire Department. He rushed into the World Trade Center that morning and he not only helped the victims, he administered last rights for many.

He selflessly did his job, ignoring the peril until debris from the North Tower crashed into the South Tower, killing Father Mychal instantly.

Judge was lauded in the media but only later did anyone mention that he was gay.

Equally familiar is Mark Bingham, who was among the passengers on United Flight 93 that were not content to sit and wait while terrorists turned the jet into a guided missile. Mark was a gay rugby player, and his efforts, along with a small band of passengers, prevented a much greater catastrophe when they rushed the cockpit. Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania instead of into Washington, D.C.

Less well known was David Charlebois, the first officer of American Airlines Flight 77. He was killed by the hijackers on their mission to crash the jet into the Pentagon. Even less publicized was the fact that David was a member of the Gay and Lesbian Employees of American Airlines group and helped carry that group’s banner in the March on Washington in 2000.

In such an appalling tragedy, there were many victims. Most were never mentioned in the media, but their loss was just as great to their families.

What’s worse is that many had partners who had to go through arduous court battles to receive the compensation that was freely given to the families of the straight victims.

Some of the LGBT Americans who died will never be known. They may have been closeted, or maybe their families refused to share details of their personal lives with officials or the media.

Whether they are named or unnamed, they are irrevocably woven into the fabric of our country’s history, and we should not forget them.

Like most folks, I have become numb to the horror of that day. I was attending a leather conference in the woods of Michigan and was just having a cup of coffee as I watched the news reports of a plane crash in New York City.

Then along with several friends from New York I watched the second plane slam into the World Trade Center towers, and almost at once, cries went up all around the campgrounds.

I suspect the same kinds of anguished voices were heard around the country from LGBT and straight Americans alike.  It was a moment that bonded us into one people.

It’s sad that today we seem to be splitting apart as never before.

I know a lot of it is the whole media circus that surrounds the current election cycle, and its candidates making points with anti-gay rhetoric.

Still, it would be worth reminding those shrill voices that on Sept. 11, 2001, we all cried out together in shared pain and anguish.

So next time you hear someone arguing against LGBT rights, ask them why they would be so vindictive to the brave heroes of 9/11, and worse, why they would be so hateful to those innocent LGBT people who died.

This Sept. 11, I will recite the names of those people I know were LGBT. It is a short list so far, but I suspect as the stories of the victims finally come fully to light, it will inevitably grow.

Until then don’t forget: David Charlebois, Father Mychal Judge, Mark Bingham, Renee Barrett, Angela V. Lopez, Waleska Martinez, Patricia A. McAneney, Catherine Smith, Eugene Clark, Jeffrey Collman, Michael A. Lepore, Eddie Ognibene, John Keohane, William “Tony” A. Karnes, Pamela J. Boyce, Luke A. Dudek, Seamus Oneal, Wesley Mercer, James Joe Ferguson, Sheila Hein, Graham Berkeley, Carol Flyzik and Daniel Brandhorst and Ronald Gamboa, and their son David Gamboa-Brandhorst.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

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