What Makes a Gay Hero?
- by L. A. Vess

Bluway NewsJan 20 - September 11th is a tragedy that I fervently hope none of us will ever forget. Among the victims of this horror were brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends, lovers, husbands and wives – and partners. There were also heroes. Rescuers, fire-fighters, police – all of those we are used to turning to in the midst of devestation and loss. Among these valiant people, a new group has arisen – “gay” heroes. Personally, to me it makes no difference what a person’s orientation is when they commit acts of kindness, grace and mercy. However, there is something special in being able to claim these ‘heroes’ as part of our community.

What makes a gay hero? I can’t even begin to answer that. Certianly Father Mychal Judge falls into this category. A 68 year old priest who died while aiding a wounded firefighter at Ground Zero, Judge qualifies as a hero under any definition. Gays have claimed him as a ‘saint’, even to the point of trying to have him canonized. Yet, if Judge was indeed gay as many claim, it was not how he primarily identified himself. He simply was who he was; kind, generous, loving and willing to sacrifice his own life for another’s.

So why is it so important for us to claim people like Judge as ‘gay’ heroes? I find myself torn over the question. I hate to categorize anyone; to throw labels at them and put them in convenient little niches. Though I am a lesbian, I call myself human first, a woman second, and a lesbian just because I am. Yet, I too find myself crying over the story of Judge’s death, and grieving for Mark Bingham, a gay passenger on United Airlines Flight 93 who apparently aided in thwarting the terrorists on his doomed flight. Perhaps I even cry for them a little more - just because they are gay.

Perhaps we cling to these shining jewels of humanity because we still have not found our own place in the world. Being gay means being afraid, being hurt, even being killed just for who we are. Loving our partners makes us ‘outcasts’ in society, unwelcome and unaccepted by those filled with ignorance and hate. Maybe we feel if we hold these examples of heroism by gays into the light – we too will find respect, acceptance and love from those around us. For how could anyone hate a person like Father Mychal Judge who selflessly threw himself into danger to save a human life? And if Judge cannot be hated, perhaps we can quietly ask not to be hated either.

The actions of these brave men and women give us a little more strength, a little more pride when we raise our voices to society. The memory of Wesley Mercer, loved by his partner Bill Randolph for 26 years, lends passion to our cries for equality and justice. We grieve for this man who aided in the evacuation of 3,700 WTC employees and then died when he went back to make sure no one had been forgotten. Then we rage when we find out that his partner is not even considered to receive benefits from the same company employers Mercer died protecting. Mercer’s partner, devastated over the loss of the love of his life – is forgotten and left in the cold. Meanwhile, the straight husbands and wives of September 11th victims are comforted by thousands – contributions and benefits will support them and their children for life.

The partners and children of the gays who died in this horror are treated almost as if they don’t exist. Imagine how Peggy Neff feels. Her partner of 18 years, Sheila Hein died working for our own government’s Pentagon offices. Yet, authorities refuse to even acknowledge their relationship. Neff has literally been told that her relationship with her partner never even existed, that they were just ‘friends’. (Read about Neff`s struggle in this great article at
Women News.

I think we choose to claim these people as ‘gay’ heroes because we need them so desperately. We need them like we need water, like we need food – like we need love. We need to know that being gay does not make us less human, or less deserving of respect and acceptance. We need for others to know that just because we are gay does not mean we are not capable of being ordinary, accepted people – and that we are also capable of being extraordinary mentors, patriots and heroes.

Perhaps someday we won’t need to label people like Father Mychal Judge or Mark Bingham ‘gay’ heroes. I hope that a day will come when the fact that an extraordinary person is gay will be inconsequential because it is completely accepted – and thus not important. Until that day comes, however, let us never forget the gay heroes of September 11th – and the thousands before and after.

This article was inspired by a beautiful web site dedicated to the memory of the gay heroes and victims of the September 11th tragedy. You can visit this wonderful site at
TBC wishes to thank Alex Khodorkovsky, President and Laura Vess, the editor of Bluway and author of the article for granting us permission to reproduce this article. And for their kind words on our Tribute to Our Brother, Sisters & Friends Lost.