The 9/11 Memorial was finally dedicated Thursday morning in a moving ceremony that recalled the day in 2001 when terrorists attacked America. Tributes came from President Obama, survivors, and family members. They included an audio recollection by Alice Hoagland, mother of 31-year-old gay Republican public relations executive and rugby player Mark Bingham, one of the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93.
Unfortunately for young LGBT people in need of inspiration, no mention was made that Bingham was gay. Indeed, some of the stories of the gay people who died -- or participated in the rescue/recovery -- on 9/11 illuminate how gays have lived personally courageous and authentic lives while still being treated as second-class citizens by the country they love.
Three planes had already crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when Alice Hoglan told her son Mark Bingham by cell phone of the hijackers' suicide mission. Bingham, along with Tom Burnett, 38; Todd Beamer, 32; and Jeremy Glick, 31; led an effort to take back the plane, which crashed into a field in Shanksville, Penn.
The plane was believed to be headed toward the Capitol. Since Bingham supported "maverick" Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, the conservative was invited to speak at Bingham's memorial in San Francisco. According to Bay Windows, McCain was moved to tears, saying:
"I love my country and I take pride in my service but I cannot say I love it more or as well as Mark Bingham did or the other heroes on Flight 93....
"It is now believed that the terrorists on Flight 93 intended to fly the plane into the United States Capitol where I work, the great house of democracy where I was that day. I very well may owe my life to Mark Bingham and the others who summoned the enormous amount of courage and love necessary to deny those depraved hateful men their terrible triumph. Such a debt we will incur for life. I will try very hard to discharge my public duties in a manner that honors their memory...
"He supported me and his support is now among the greatest honors of my life. I wish I had known before Sept. 11 just how great an honor his trust in me was. I wish I could have thanked him more profusely as time and circumstances allowed but I do now and I thank him by the only means I possess, by being as good of an American as he was."
Despite two documentaries about Bingham that shattered old gay stereotypes and displayed his masculine prowess, McCain never quite grasped that the gay man who gave his life to save McCain's life was similar to all the other LGBT servicemembers in the armed forces who also volunteered to protect their country, and McCain continued to fight repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" until some brave Republicans joined Democrats to bring that barrier down.
And then there are the religious bigots who blamed 9/11 on gays, among others. "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen,'" said Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell.
But it was gay Franciscan priest Father Mychal Judge, who served as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, who ran to the Twin Towers and prayed over the dead bodies in the streets. When he got to the lobby of the North Tower, he stayed near the emergency command post praying and blessing the police, firefighters and the jumpers escaping the inferno above. Judge was killed by debris when the South Tower collapsed. A photo of his body being carried out was later described by the Philadelphia Weekly as "an American Pieta."
Judge's body was laid before the altar of St. Peter's Catholic church. Though so many had died before him in the terrorist attacks that morning, Judge was officially declared "Victim 0001" and thereby recognized as the first official victim of the September 11, 2001 attacks because his was the first body recovered and identified by the medical examiner. ?
Not as well-known as Bingham and Judge but just as stereotype-breaking in their own right were Daniel Brandhorst, 42, a lawyer at PricewaterhouseCoopers; and Ronald Gamboa, 33, a GAP store manager in Santa Monica; and their three-year-old adopted son David Reed Gamboa. Brandhorst and Gamboa were co-founders of the Pop Luck Club in West Hollywood and often marched in the CSW Pride Parade. They were returning from their annual trip to Provincetown, Mass., on board United Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles, which flew into the second tower.
The couple had been together for 14 years. The 9/11 Memorial placed their names side by side as if they were married, as Daniel Brandhorst and Ronald Gamboa Brandhorst. The Pop Luck Club has since grown, worked closely with the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services, and has developed a nationally-recognized foster and adoption program for prospective gay and lesbian parents called RaiseAChild.
Osama bin Laden may have killed them -- and so many others -- but their gay legacy lives on.
Here is Alice Hoglan speaking with ABC News anchor Peter Jennings on 9/11:
Here is Melissa Etheridge's tribute to Mark Bingham:
Here is United 175 flying into the Second Tower with the Brandhorst-Gamboa family aboard: