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LGBTQ community shared nation’s grief after 9/11 attacks

Gay passenger may have helped stop hijackers from crashing into White House

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This week marks 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000.

Many in the LGBTQ community throughout the country were expected to join their friends, neighbors, and family members this week in commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the New York World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and on the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., as well as a hijacking that ended with a crash in Shanksville, Pa.

Activists involved with local and national LGBTQ advocacy organizations have said they recall a coming together of LGBTQ people and their co-workers, neighbors, and family members to support one another during a time of unimaginable horror and grief.

A total of 2,996 people died in the 9/11 attacks, including 19 terrorists who hijacked four jetliners whose passengers included Americans and citizens of 78 countries, according to history.com.

“The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities and those living with HIV/AIDS have worked diligently to overcome other forms of evil, whether it be bigotry or violence,” said A. Cornelius Baker, who at the time was executive director of D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Clinic, in a statement during the week of the 9/11 attacks.

“And we will stand side by side with our fellow Americans and our fellow citizens of the world to do everything we can to overcome this new threat to humanity,” Baker said

For many LGBTQ residents of New York and the D.C. area, the suffering over the loss of loved ones, including same-sex partners, was heightened a short time later when they learned they were initially ineligible for local and federal programs aimed at providing financial assistance to survivors of the victims of the 9/11 attacks because same-sex partners were not legally recognized.

At the urging of LGBTQ rights organizations, state, and local officials in New York and the D.C. area took steps to address the initial denial of financial support for surviving same-sex partners in programs under their control. Officials with a massive, multi-million-dollar federal aid program for 9/11 survivors, however, said they did not have legal authority to authorize payments to same-sex partners.

The officials, in the administration of President George W. Bush, said the best they could do would be to leave it up to local authorities to determine whether state probate laws would recognize a same-sex partner as a family member for eligibility in the federal aid program for 9/11 survivors, many of whom lived in states outside New York and the D.C. area.

Among those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks was American Airlines co-pilot David Charlebois, an out gay man and member of the National Gay Pilots Association, who was on American Airlines Flight 77, which the terrorists crashed into the Pentagon.

Also among the terrorists’ victims in the 9/11 attacks was public relations executive and rugby enthusiast Mark Bingham of San Francisco, who contacted his mother by cell phone shortly before the United Airlines jet he was taking from Newark, N.J. to San Francisco crashed into the countryside in western Pennsylvania.

Surviving family members of other passengers on that flight have said they too were called by their loved ones who told them some of the passengers were planning an attempt to somehow regain control of the jet from the terrorists.

Bingham’s mother, Alice Hoagland, who at the time was a United Airlines flight attendant, said she believed her son joined other passengers to prevent the terrorists from carrying out what authorities said was their plan to crash the jet into the U.S. Capitol or possibly the White House. She said her son’s reputation as a fighter for civic justice, along with a past episode where he fought off muggers, led her to believe he was among those who foiled the terrorists’ plans to fly the jet to Washington.

An investigation into the 9/11 attacks by a federal 9/11 commission later found that flight data recordings from the cockpit of United Airlines Flight 93, where Bingham was among 44 people aboard, showed that one of the four hijackers who took control of the jetliner shortly after its takeoff responded to an attempt by passengers to storm the cockpit by deliberately steering the plane into a downward direction at about 500 miles per hour, causing it to crash into an empty field near the town of Shanksville in western Pennsylvania at 10:10 a.m. All 44 people were killed.

“The fact that he was so close to the action, it is likely that he was able to get at these guys,” Hoagland told the Associated Press. “It gives me a great deal of comfort to know my son may have been able to avert the killing of many, many innocent people,” she said.

Hoagland became an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights and for the gay rugby teams that Mark Bingham helped to create in the years after her son’s death. She died on Dec. 22, 2020, of natural causes at the age of 71 at her home in Los Gatos, Calif., according to the Associated Press.  

Longtime LGBTQ rights advocate Jay Fisette, who at the time of the 9/11 attacks held the elected position of chair of the Arlington County Board, which serves as the county’s governing body, was among the Arlington officials that came to the Pentagon’s grounds to oversee efforts by Arlington firefighters to rescue Pentagon workers on the day of the attack. 

Fisette noted that the Pentagon is in Arlington County, and it was largely the county’s firefighters and emergency medical teams that put out the fire caused by the jetliner crash and provided medical assistance to survivors of the crash.

At an Oct. 7, 2001, 9/11 Day of Remembrance and Appreciation ceremony held in Arlington, Fisette expressed the views of many in the community in response to the 9/11 attacks.

“Tonight, our community gathers as a family,” he told the gathering. “We gather in sorrow and in disbelief, in remembrance and appreciation,” he said. “But we come here, too, with resolve and pride. We come together as Arlingtonians who love our county, as Americans who love our country,” he said.

“Our enemies may hurt our bodies and destroy our buildings, but they will never defeat our determination to make this a world of peace and a community in which our children grow up safe and secure,” Fisette told participants at the gathering.

Although some of the same-sex partners of those killed in the 9/11 attacks faced obstacles in obtaining financial support through the federal 9/11 relief program, Tom Hay, the surviving partner of 14 years of American Airlines pilot David Charlebois was treated with respect and honor by American Airlines officials and colleagues at Charlebois’ funeral mass at D.C.’s St. Matthews Cathedral.

More than a dozen uniformed company pilots and flight attendants attended the mass. In a news release issued in June of this year, American Airlines mentions Charlebois’ relationship with Hay and tells how Hay stood with Charlebois when Charlebois pushed for equal rights for LGBTQ people in the airline industry through his involvement with the National Gay Pilots Association.

“David was an early member of the NGPA,” the American Airlines statement says. “His contribution helped ensure ongoing progress toward fairness and solidarity,” it says. 

Activists in New York have said the 9/11 attacks drew attention to the need for legal protections for same-sex couples, including the need for legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Ros Levi, who in 2001 served as executive director of the New York LGBTQ advocacy group Empire State Pride Agenda, or ESPA, said his group became aware that same-sex partner survivors were being treated differently when New York City and private relief agencies like the Red Cross set up an emergency station on a pier along the Hudson River. The station was intended to help people find a family member missing and as yet unaccounted for in the World Trade Center carnage.

“Literally, [gay] people had to go there, turn around, go back home, and get some paperwork that spouses didn’t have to get to prove a relationship existed,” Levi told the Washington Blade in 2011 when the Blade reported on the 10-year anniversary events related to the 9/11 attacks. 

“You were nervous and scared and sad and then you had to go through that,” Levi said. “And worse, other people turned them away, even with the paperwork, saying sorry you’re not a family according to our guidelines.” 

Activists said New York City and New York State officials quickly recognized the inequities faced by same-sex partner survivors and took steps to change policies and laws to correct the situation. Among other things, activists were pleased when New York’s then GOP Gov. George Pataki issued an executive order in October 2001 that included surviving partners of gay and lesbian victims of the World Trade Center attacks in receiving full spousal benefits from the state’s Crime Victims Board.

The New York State Legislature soon took its own action by approving three separate bills that included same-sex partner survivors in various state benefits to be allocated to 9/11 survivors and their families. 

“The grief and loss were the same between heterosexual and same-sex couples, and a perception of this seemed to come through to much of the public,” said Jennifer Pizer, the then senior counsel for the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal.

In a separate development, Lambda Legal, ESPA, the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQ advocacy groups created the September 11 Gay & Lesbian Family Fund to provide some support to surviving same-sex partners who were ineligible for help from the federal relief fund program. 

“The Family Fund was established in December [2001] to help offset the discrimination gay and lesbian partners faced in obtaining benefits automatically afforded to surviving spouses, including Social Security and Workers Compensation survivor benefits and compensation under the Federal 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund,” ESPA said in a statement.

Among the other gay people known to have lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks was Father Mychal Judge, 68, a Franciscan priest who served as a Catholic chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Judge rushed to the scene of the World Trade Center to assist firefighters shortly before the Twin Towers collapsed. He was fatally struck by debris falling from the south tower while giving last rites to a fallen firefighter, the Catholic publication reported this week.

“He was a decent, wonderful human being,” said New York gay journalist Andy Humm, who had interviewed Judge for LGBT related stories prior to the 9/11 attacks. “When gays were kept out of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, he gave me an interview on the street telling me how terrible it was for us to be discriminated against and for the church to be doing it,” Humm told the Blade.

“I saw him at many demonstrations for gay and AIDS causes, showing up in his Franciscan monk’s cassock,” said Humm. “And he was equally beloved by the Fire Department, there at every major fire tragedy in the city, lending moral support to firefighters.”

New Ways Ministries, the Maryland based LGBTQ Catholic group that advocates for LGBTQ supportive policies within the church, has announced it is reaching out to other faith-based organizations, asking them to form an association to call on the Catholic Church to officially recognize Fr. Judge as a saint by canonizing him.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries’ executive director, has written a biography of Judge, which the group says will be published in March 2022 by Liturgical Press, one of the larger Catholic publishers.

A gay couple from California, Daniel Brandhorst and Ronald Gamboa, and their adopted son, David Brandhorst, were among those who died aboard the United Airlines flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. The Los Angeles Times reported that Brandhorst, a lawyer and Gamboa, the manager of a Santa Monica Gap store, had adopted 3-year-old David when he was an infant.  

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court declines to hear lawsuit against Montgomery County schools gender guidelines

4th Circuit last August dismissed parents’ case

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a lawsuit against Montgomery County Public Schools guidelines that allow schools to create plans in support of transgender or gender nonconfirming students without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

Three parents of students in the school district — none of whom have trans or gender nonconfirming children — filed the lawsuit. 

A judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

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National

Bill to support LGBTQ seniors in rural areas reintroduced

Advocates praise Elder Pride Act

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(Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) reintroduced legislation to increase access to needed services and resources for LGBTQ seniors who live in rural areas this week.

The Elder Pride Act would bolster the capacity and ability of Area Agencies on Aging located in rural communities to better serve and support LGBTQ seniors who often require affirming care, services, and supports that are often underfunded and scarce in many parts of the country.

Recent surveys show that between 2.9 million and 3.8 million LGBTQ people live in rural American communities.

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation, including rural areas. We all deserve to be able to age in our communities with the services and supports we need to remain independent,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in the press release announcing the reintroduction of the legislation. “We commend Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) on reintroducing the Elder Pride Act. And we honor the contributions of our many LGBTQ+ trailblazers whose tireless advocacy allowed us to reintroduce this critical bill. We look forward to working alongside Reps. Bonamici, Pocan, and Davids, and our LGBTQ+ pioneers nationwide to pass this legislation.”

“LGBTQI+ seniors should be able to access services and care that meets their unique needs, regardless of where they live,” said Bonamici, chair of the Equality Caucus’s LGBTQ+ Aging Issues Task Force.”Those who live in rural areas frequently face increased barriers, which Congress can break down. The Elder Pride Act will increase resources for programs and services that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ elders.”

“The Elder Pride Act will improve the overall health and social and economic well-being of LGBTQI+ older adults and seniors living with HIV in rural areas by better equipping senior service providers with resources to address the unique needs of these communities. I’m pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and co-leaders on the Equality Caucus, Reps. Pocan and Davids,” Bonamici added.

“Rural LGBTQI+ seniors have been lacking access to necessary services and care for too long,” said Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Elder Pride Act creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ seniors in rural communities, benefiting everyone in the region. I look forward to advancing this important legislation.”

“Many of our LGBTQ+ elders fought tirelessly for equality in a world that refused to accept their identity,” said Davids. “While they overcame tremendous odds to give future generations the rights they deserve, our elders, particularly those in rural communities, continue to face discrimination when accessing long-term care and healthcare. I am proud to support the Elder Pride Act because who you are and who you love should never increase your risk for isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as you age.”

The Elder Pride Act complements the Older American Act, which was updated under Bonamici’s leadership, by establishing a rural grant program designed to fund care and services for LGBTQ seniors. The grant would also support programs that:

• Provide services such as cultural competency training for service providers;

• Develop modes of connection between LGBTQI+ older adults and local service providers and community organizations;

• Expand the use of nondiscrimination policies and community spaces for older adults who are members of the LGBTQI+ community or another protected class; and,

• Disseminate resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here, and the full text can be found here.

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State Department

State Department travel advisory warns of potential anti-LGBTQ violence

FBI issued similar warning this week

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel advisory that warns of potential violence against LGBTQ people and LGBTQ-specific events.

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” reads the advisory. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”  

The advisory further urges U.S. citizens to:

  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Investigations earlier this week issued a similar advisory.

The advisory notes June 12 will mark eight years since the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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