9/11 and the Gay Heroes

Posted by RJ on Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11's Gay Heroes

I wasn't too sure I was going to write anything about the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  The media already seems surfeited with coverage, local municipalities and churches and temples are presenting special services.  When I heard a rather long tribute to Father Mychal Judge, I decided to write.  The newscaster left out one significant part of Father Mychal's being-- he was gay!!

The events of 9/11 impacted on everyone bringing us into an decade which bounces around terms like "Ground Zero" and "Terrorist Attacks" in everyday conversation.  No one needs to be especially bright to understand that approximately 10 per cent of the victims were gay men and women.  There were also two, to my knowledge, "super heroes" of 9/11 who lived and died as gay people, never hiding the fact.  Why should this significant part of who they were escape major recognition?" 

Franciscan Father Mychal Judge was already a legend in his own time.  He admitted to being gay, a recovering alcoholic and a real presence of God during the first days of the AIDS Pandemic.  Back at the time when medical personnel were afraid to touch a dying AIDS victim, Father Mychal would hug them, comfort them and bring them the gift of love and acceptance.  Since Father Mychal was also a chaplain to the NYC fire department, he also brought this kind of tangible feeling of love to the fire personnel who called on him to act as their priest-at-large for baptisms, weddings and funerals.  He was also the person many chose to help them sort out their problems and issues.  That was one side of the man.

The second side of Father Mychal Judge presents someone we can all admire for his intestinal fortitude.  For example, when he was told by Cardinal Egan that he could not march with the  Gay Irish group in the Saint Patrick's Day Parade in Manhattan, he obeyed.  He marched with the same group in the Brooklyn parade!  Leaving a gay AA meeting one night, he commented to a gay couple that he found it amazing that the Catholic Church thought there was so much love in the world that they could afford to frown upon the love of same gender people.  On the day of 9/11 one of the other friars at Saint Francis of Assisi Church told Mychal that there was trouble downtown and he would be needed down there.  It seemed to take him awhile to put his fireman's gear on, but it was later learned that he was blow drying his hair and spraying it!   At Ground Zero, he immediately started to minister to the people.  He prayed with them, gave them the last rites of the Catholic Church (just in case the were Catholic)  and this is how he died.  Debris from the imploded building fell and ended his life.  Firemen took his body to Saint Paul's Church and placed it on the altar.  Father Mychal Judge became officially "Victim Number 1" on that horrendous day. 

Another gay hero of 9/11 was Mark Bringham, a young man who was a passenger on Flight 93.  Bingham had received a phone message about the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, and he realized that there were terrorists piloting the plain.  Mark Bingham took the lead in getting other passengers to bust into the cockpit and take back the plane.  The plane crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and all on board died.  The exact destination of the downed plane was apparently the White House or the Washington Monument.

Of course, there were many gay and lesbian people who lost their partners on 9/11.  Very few, it appears, have made this public knowledge.

We must remember that as gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender people, we are a large part of society and need to make others aware of who we are. 

One of the churches, among many, which will have a dedicated service for 9/11 is Saint Bartholomew the Apostle on Westfield Avenue in Scotch Plains.  The extremely gifted homilist, Father John Paladino, will preach at all the Masses.  The Masses are Saturday evening at 5 P.M. (and a prayer service at 7 pm, after which the church is open all night for the reading of names and meditation).  Sunday Masses are at 7:30, 9, 10:30 and noon and 5 pm.   No matter how many issues we may have with the institutional church, we must learn to accept the good that is attempted and accomplished.  We owe it to ourselves to experience a Catholic parish and pastor in touch with the real world.

P.S.   I'll be at Saint Bart's at 10:30 am.... Meet you there?


Lord, take me where You
want me to go;
Let me meet who You
want me to meet;
Tell me what You
want me to say
Keep me out of Your Way.


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