Photo of gay Boston police officer responding to marathon bombing serves as reminder that we are everywhere, and we can be heroes
Last month, I wrote that I couldn’t understand why some LGBT political leaders in Dallas would support a City Council candidate whom they know to be a closeted homosexual.
To me, this amounts to aiding and abetting and goes squarely against the fundamental principle laid out by Harvey Milk 35 years ago — that for us as a community, coming out is the key to achieving equality.
Indeed, I’ve heard it said that if all closeted LGBT elected officials worldwide were to come out, we could achieve equality under the law fairly quickly. It seems to logically follow that closeted elected officials are holding us back.
But I digress. The point is, I found myself even more dumbfounded this week when Dallas Voice came under attack for reporting that one of the heroes of the Boston Marathon bombings was gay.
Amid the horror of this terrorist attack, I was quite proud of the fact that despite the proliferation of national LGBT news blogs, the little old gay rag in Dallas, Texas, broke the story that a police officer in one of the iconic photos from the bombings —Javier Pagan — was the Boston Police Department’s GLBT liaison.
Pagan had been stationed behind the barricades near the finish line where one of the bombs went off.
In a Boston Globe photo that went viral, Pagan and other officers can be seen running onto the course in the immediate aftermath — still being buffeted by the force of the explosion, one brandishing a weapon and another with a radio in hand — above a runner who’d been knocked to the pavement.
Pagan was uninjured, and it turns out his partner is a former New York City police sergeant who reportedly rescued many people when the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001.
What a coincidence, what a scoop for us, and what an amazing story.
But my pride soon turned to disbelief when some commenters, including LGBT ones, slammed us for mentioning Pagan was gay.
“Seriously, if you want to stop being treated differently, then stop calling us out for being different,” one commenter wrote.
“Please do not use this tragedy to push any political agenda,” another wrote. “By doing so makes you the same as those responsible for yesterday’s tragedy in Boston.”
First of all, Pagan is openly gay, so in this case, our LGBT critics could not hide behind the accusation that we had broken an unwritten rule against outing people — a rule which doesn’t necessarily apply to public figures in the first place.
Second, we’re an LGBT newspaper, so obviously we’re going to focus on the gay angle of any major story.
From a journalistic standpoint, we were simply reporting facts, and it’s no surprise our post was picked up by outlets from BuzzFeed to Rachel Maddow.
But in responding to some of the critics, I began to realize there were much bigger implications to this story and photo, and that some of the commenters were undoubtedly driven by internalized homophobia.
Throughout history, those seeking to oppress minorities have aimed to silence them in the media and write them out of the history books.
On one level, Pagan is no different from all the heroes, LGBT and otherwise, who were the first responders in both Boston and West, Texas, this week. But on another, Pagan, a native of Puerto Rico, is living proof that not all heroes are straight white males.
He also serves as a reminder that LGBT people are everywhere — and he stands alongside the likes of Gabrielle Giffords’ intern Daniel Hernandez (whose sexual orientation we were also first to report), Flight 93 passenger and gay rugby player Mark Bingham, and New York Fire Department Chaplain Mychal Judge.
Shining a light on LGBT heroes not only makes it harder for our enemies to hate us, it makes it harder for LGBT youth to hate themselves.
In fact, one could argue that LGBT first responders like Pagan — and like police liaisons Laura Martin of Dallas and Tracey Knight of Fort Worth — are unwittingly saving the lives of LGBT youth on a daily basis by giving them hope that their sexual orientation can’t stop them from doing whatever it is they want to do.
I suppose that someday, when we are truly equal, it may not matter who’s LGBT and who isn’t in the public sphere.
But until then, the sexual orientations of both our heroes and our elected officials does matter, and we should report on it, and we should expect them to be out. Indeed, for the LGBT community, the difference between out and closeted often amounts to the difference between hero and would-be hero.
Let’s not get the cart before the horse by saying sexual orientation no longer matters, and therefore we don’t need to be out.
In actuality, the more people who come out, the sooner it won’t matter.
Thank you, Officer Pagan.
John Wright is senior editor of Dallas Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 19, 2013.