About Heroes, and
by Margie Cook, published in the Northern Star, Northern Illinois University, October 5, 2001
As I try to find my way through the days that have followed since September 11, I cannot stop thinking about the people who are at the center of this tragedy. I keep reading the stories of people who died, people who are missing, people who were rescued, people who are still waiting for loved ones to come home.
In this time of national sorrow, we feel bound together as a human family. In this context, as we grieve together, it feels awkward to single out any group of individuals. But there are some names from this tragedy that especially stand out to me.
Mark Bingham. David Charlebois. Reverend Mychal Judge. Joe Ferguson. Daniel Bradhorst and Ronald Gamboa.
These are the names of just a few of the thousands who died in the terrorist attacks on September 11. Some of these men are being hailed as heroes for their roles in this tragedy. You may have heard their names on the evening news or read about them in the paper.
What you may not have heard or read is that all of these men were gay. October is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender History Month, and as we kick off the celebration this year, I am thinking about heroes, and history.
Mark Bingham was a rugby enthusiast who contacted his mother by cell phone to tell her that his United Airlines flight had been hijacked, just moments before it crashed in Pennsylvania. It is believed that he may have been one of several passengers who fought back against the hijackers, thus preventing the plane from reaching its intended target, and most likely saving hundreds or thousands of lives.
Reverend Mychal Judge was the New York Fire Department's Catholic chaplain. While administering the last rites to another fire fighter at the World Trade Center, he was crushed by falling debris. Judge's death has been especially difficult for his colleagues, because he was the one who had always been there to minister to them when disaster struck, to help them with their sorrow.
David Charlebois was co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which was crashed into the pentagon. He was a member of the National Gay Pilots Association, and according to a colleague was one of the most liked pilots at American.
J. Joe Ferguson, director of the National Geographic Society's geography education outreach program, was onboard American Airlines Flight 77, accompanying a group of teachers and students from D.C. public schools on an educational trip.
Daniel Bradhorst and Ronald Gamboa were aboard United Airlines Flight 175 with their three-year-old adopted son David when it crashed into the World Trade Center.
Why does this matter, you might be wondering? Why would we want to talk about the fact that these men were gay?
Because if we do not, then we may forget that lesbian and gay people are a vital part of our human family. They are athletes and pilots, ministers and educators, parents and firefighters. And they may be the heroes who inspire us in times of tragedy.
If, when we remember them, we do not acknowledge that they were gay, then we are creating an inaccurate picture of history. A picture that assumes all people who ever did anything important, or good, or worthwhile - or heroic -- are heterosexual.
And that is not the case. History is full of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who have made a positive difference in the world. People like Katharine Lee Bates, the author of the song "America the Beautiful." Or Bayard Rustin, a principal assistant to Martin Luther King and the organizer of the 1963 civil rights March on Washington. Or Alan Turing, the father of computer science and a master code-breaker who helped the Allies win World War Two.
There are so many more. If we do not tell their stories, and acknowledge that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, then ignorance lives on unchallenged. Then it is too easy to believe the mythology that is so pervasive: that gay men are child molesters, that lesbian women can't be good mothers, that transgender people are mentally ill, that bisexual people are sex fiends.
These are stereotypes, and they hide the truth. Worse than that, they dehumanize people, and keep us from recognizing that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have a positive impact on our lives and in our communities. They help make the world a better place for all of us, gay and straight.