As Sept. 11 approaches, the nation prepares to hold remembrances and memorials for those lost during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks 10 years ago. For those too young to remember Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy or King assassinations and other tragic dates now seared into national memory, the attacks a decade ago have served as watershed life- and culture-defining moments for an entire generation. Above and beyond those killed that day, thousands of young men and women have ventured into Afghanistan and Iraq never to return home. Nearly every person in the nation has been touched by 9/11; many lost friends that day and others have lost siblings, children, friends or parents to the battlefield.
For the LGBT community, in particular, the decennial anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks gives us pause to reflect on those of our own who died that day. We also reflect on those LGBT servicemembers who served and died in the line of duty, fighting bravely for a nation that refused to give them full rights of citizenship.
In the days and weeks following the attacks, LGBT media and organizations began reporting on LGBT victims. Among the most high profile were a Catholic priest, Father Mychal Judge, and Mark Bingham, who helped to thwart United Airlines Flight 93’s hijackers.
Judge, 68, was a chaplain with the New York Fire Department. Through the 1980s, he worked to comfort AIDS victims and presided over many funerals. He was also an ardent support of Dignity, an LGBT Catholic organization. On Sept. 11, 2001, Judge died while ministering to injured firemen at the World Trade Center. His memory lives on in the Mychal Judge Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, which granted federal money to survivors of 9/11 victims, including same-sex partners.
Bingham, 31, was a public relations executive. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93 and aided in stopping hijackers from taking over the plane. The flight ended tragically in Shanksville, Penn. A resident of San Francisco, he played on the city’s Fog Rugby Football Club team. In 2002, the club founded the Bingham Cup in honor of 9/11 hero. The cup is a biennial, international, gay rugby tournament.
Judge and Bingham have certainly been among the most well-known gay 9/11 victims, but there are others.
David Charlebois, a member of the National Gay Pilots Association according to the Washington Blade, was the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 77. Charlebois’ plane was flown into the Pentagon.
A gay couple, Ronald Gamboa, 33, and Dan Brandhorst, 42, and their three-year-old son, David, were also among the victims. The couple and son were passengers on United Airlines Flight 175 heading from Boston to their home in Los Angeles.
Fifty-one-year old Shelia Hein, an employee at the U.S. Army’s management and budget office was killed when the Pentagon was attacked. Her partner, Peggy Neff, was among the first same-sex partners of 9/11 victims to be recognized by the government and receive survivor benefits, after being refused recognition as anything other than “friends” by Virginia’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, according to 365gay.com.
These victims were just a handful of dozens of gay and lesbian people killed on Sept. 11, 2001. Many of our LGBT brothers and sisters who died 10 years ago or those who have died in service since then will likely remain unknown to all but their closest friends and family members. Regardless, their memory lives on collectively as each of remember that day and its events in our own individual and unique ways.
Our nation has faced many challenges in our history; without doubt, we’ll continue to face more. As we do, however, we move closer and closer to a society that values, respects and includes — legally, civically, socially, culturally and religiously — each of its members, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. In that, we are the victors; radical terrorists attempted to destroy us from the inside out, but we have proven that even in the face of tragedy, America’s values and ideals live on to prove that our “great experiment” can continue to produce good results. : :