Hundreds turned out Sept. 4 to show their admiration for the Rev. Mychal F. Judge, the Fire Department of New York chaplain who died in falling debris at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001, while ministering to the wounded.
Friends, colleagues, 9/11 survivors and many others gathered for the annual Father Mychal F. Judge Walk of Remembrance, a four-hour march from FDNY station houses and NYPD precincts to Ground Zero. At each stop, firefighters emerged from their station houses to join hands with the marchers and remember the gay Franciscan priest who has been nominated for a Congressional medal and likened to a saint.
Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano remembered Judge as the department’s spiritual leader.
Firefighters remembered Judge, who had rushed to the World Trade Center to give last rites, as their rock.
Many others remembered Judge as a man of faith and compassion.
“He took such care for my cousin, who died of AIDS, and saved him from feeling alone and frightened and very unloved,” marcher Debra Lannon said.
Before the walk, people gathered at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Midtown Manhattan for a Mass in honor of Judge, who was designated “Victim 0001” – the first official casualty of 9/11.
“As a city we will never forget their lives and what they all sacrificed for us on that day,” walk organizer Steven McDonald, an NYPD detective, said of Judge and the others who died on 9/11.
10 years ago
Out of tragedy and grief, shock and horror, Americans in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, shared a sense of unity, a common purpose. This is what so many remember 10 years after the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.
“We were united, and the outpouring of generosity and compassion reminded us that in times of challenge, we Americans move forward together, as one people,” President Barack Obama observed in his weekly address on Aug. 27, when he called on Americans to mark the anniversary of the attacks with national service.
Yet many also recognize that the unity, the common purpose felt in the hours and days after the attacks did not last for long.
Within days, Christian right leaders were blaming other Americans for an attack committed by al Qaeda operatives.
In a broadcast of the Christian television program “The 700 Club,” the Rev. Jerry Falwell lashed out at “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America.”
“I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen,’” Falwell said.
Falwell later said he didn’t mean to direct blame, but he didn’t retract the statement that has been recycled by numerous right-wingers and applied to various man-made and natural disasters over the past 10 years. Two weeks ago, GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said Hurricane Irene tearing up the East Coast was a political statement from God. Later, she said her comment was meant as a joke.
Sept. 11, as the president said on Aug. 27, brought out the best in the American people, who stood in line to give blood, drove thousands of miles to move rubble and tend the injured, collected canned goods and clothing, and donated from their savings what they could.
But with 9/11 also came a decade of war, volatile partisan politics, economic turmoil, privacy intrusions and human rights violations in the name of national security.
For the LGBT community – for gays and lesbians who lost loved ones on 9/11 – the aftermath also brought out the best in the American people and the worst.
Gays and lesbians who died that day have been hailed as heroes. Consider:
Sheila Hein, 51, who was working in the U.S. Army management and budget office when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, has received the U.S. Defense of Freedom Medal.
PR rep and rugby enthusiast Mark Bingham, 31, who died when United Flight 93 crashed outside Shanksville, Penn., has been nominated for the Medal of Honor along with other passengers who prevented the hijackers from crashing the plane into the U.S. Capitol.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., spoke at Bingham’s memorial. “I very well may owe my life to Mark Bingham and the others who summoned the enormous amount of courage and love necessary to deny those depraved hateful men their terrible triumph,” the senator said. “Such a debt we will incur for life.”
Judge, 68, the FDNY chaplain who died in a rain of debris at the World Trade Center, has been nominated for the Congressional Gold Medal and recommended for canonization.
U.S. Rep. Peter King, D-N.Y., introduced the bill to award Judge the Congressional honor. King’s legislation states that the Brooklyn native was the first recorded death in the Sept. 11 attacks and that Judge courageously rushed “to the World Trade Center to support, console and administer last rites to the victims.”
Cardinal Edward Egan presided over Judge’s funeral Mass, which was attended by more than 3,000 people, including former President Bill Clinton and then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton called Judge a “bearer of light,” while Egan said, “New York is going to be rebuilt better and stronger than ever before out of the blood and sweat of our heroes.”
But gays and lesbians who died on 9/11 also were the targets of disrespect, and their families faced discrimination. Consider:
Hein’s partner of 17 years, Peggy Neff, fought for nearly two years before the federal government recognized their relationship as more than a friendship and issued a reward from the 9/11 victim compensation fund. The state of Virginia has never recognized their partnership.
Kenneth Feinberg, after he was appointed to direct the federal fund, explained gays and lesbians are “left out of my program to the extent that their own state doesn’t include them. I cannot get into a position in this program … second-guessing what the state of New York or the commonwealth of Massachusetts or the state of Virginia or New Jersey, how they treat same-sex partners, domestic live-ins, etc.”
McCain, at Bingham’s memorial, referred to the United Flight 93 passengers and said, “I will try very hard to discharge my public duties in a manner that honors their memory.”
But the senator later opposed gay adoptions and hate crimes reform, campaigned for an Arizona constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and fought the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. “Open homosexuality within the military service presents an intolerable risk to morale, cohesion and discipline,” argued McCain.
Pope John Paul II accepted the gift of Judge’s FDNY helmet, which was recovered from the rubble at Ground Zero, but the Vatican continues a policy deeming celibate gay men such as Judge unfit for the priesthood.
Still, Judge’s church, St. Francis of Assisi, participated in one of the first events marking the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks – the annual Walk of Remembrance.
This Sept. 11, more commemorations are taking place throughout the United States, with the largest events planned for Ground Zero, Shanksville and the Pentagon. Americans again will share a sense of unity.
And after Sept. 11?
The president, in his Aug. 27 address, said, “Let’s show that the sense of common purpose that we need in America doesn’t have to be a fleeting moment; it can be a lasting virtue — not just on one day, but every day.”
On Sept. 11, many names will be read in many remembrances around the country.
Some will be more familiar than others. Some will be remembered as victims and others as heroes. Some will be remembered as colleagues or friends, and some as fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, spouses and, yes, partners.
Among them were members of the LGBT community. Many were survived by longtime partners.
The name of Father Mychal Judge, the 68-year-old chaplain with the FDNY who died at Ground Zero, will be read.
As will the name of Mark Bingham, the 31-year-old passenger aboard United Airlines Flight 93 who helped thwart the plane’s hijackers, and the name of Sheila Hein, the 51-year-old U.S. Army worker and Defense of Freedom Medal recipient who died when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.
In remembrances, people also will hear the names of:
- 40-year-old nurse Carol Flyzik, who was aboard American Airlines Flight 11, the first of the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.
- Bond-trader Roxie Eddie Ognibene, who was at work on the 89th floor of the WTC.
- David Charlebois, the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 77.
- 37-year-old Graham Berkeley, who was on United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center.
- Eugene Clark, who was evacuating from the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center south tower when the second plane hit.
- Carr Futures VP Pamela J. Boyce, who was at work on the 92nd floor of the WTC.
- Cantor Fitzgerald employee Renee Barrett, who was injured at the WTC on Sept. 11 and died a month later.
- National Geographic Society outreach coordinator James Joe Ferguson, who died aboard Flight 77.
- 39-year-old project analyst Michael Lepore, who died in the WTC.
- Census Bureau employee Waleska Martinez, who was on Flight 93 when it crashed outside Shanksville, Penn.
- Morgan Stanley VP Wesley Mercer, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, who died attempting to help evacuate people from the WTC.
- Flight attendant Jeffrey Collman, who was working on Flight 11.
- Guy Carpenter employee Patricia McAneney, who was fire marshal for her floor in the WTC.
- Businessman John Keohane, who worked near the World Trade Center and was killed by falling debris.
- 50-year-old Luke A. Dudek, who worked at WTC’s Windows on the World, who had returned from a week’s vacation on Sept. 11.
- 37-year-old Anthony Karnes, who had an 11-minute commute to his office on the 97th floor of the WTC.
- 44-year-old Catherine Smith, who worked on the 97th floor of the WTC.
Editor’s note: 365gay.com, the Washington Blade, advocate.com, Wikipedia and the online memorial “September 11, 2001: Gay Victims & Heroes” were used to compile this partial list of LGBT people who died in 9/11.