Father Mychal Judge was only one of the 343 firefighters who died in the September 11 attack, along with hundreds of police officers and thousands of everyday people. With Americans still digging out from the ruins of this tragedy, the faces and the names of its victims are beginning to appear along with stories about the lives they once lived.
While every victim who fell to this tragedy should not go unnoticed, I have come to see the paucity of reports about our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender heroes and sheroes.
We now know of the heroic deeds of Mark Bingham, one of the heroic victims of United Airlines Flight 93, who helped thwart the terrorist plot somewhere over rural Pennsylvania. And we know of Reverend Judge, who died while administering last rites. But where are the others?
With the tragedy seen mostly through the lens of heterosexism, lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender people are invisible in this tragedy and have become more and more invisible to mainstream society in its aftermath.
AIDS service organizations, for example, now struggle more than ever to raise funds. The issues and acts of homophobia we confront everyday in our lives are eclipsed if not blatantly ignored because of today’s “war against terrorism.”
In our nation’s drive to go only after the enemy outside of ourselves and our national borders, we leave populations of people in our country who have always been marginalized and terrorized still unprotected.
The resurgence of American patriotism demands the loyalty of all people, and the need for all of us to stand united against the enemy, irrespective of how our differences in this country have historically been used as the very tool to fracture us.
Those of us who now cry out in protest against the war and/or against the individual terrorism we continue to endure during this era of war are seem as unpatriotic. Issues like racism, sexism and heterosexism all are unabashedly ignored in our nation’s singular and myopic effort to go after our enemies.
With homophobia, for instance, shaping how we see our LGBT heroes and sheroes in the September 11 attack, we lauded their acts of courage but we neither honor nor respect the whole persons they were. And equally as important, we never find out how their queerness may have fueled their courage.
Having to live a bifurcated life where our queerness is separated from who and what we are, LGBT people are only partially seen, if we are seen at all.
The church, in her compassionate effort to not transgress against herself by throwing away the baby with the bath water, qualifies her ecclesiastical acts of homophobia with its theological qualifier, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” This allows for a partial acceptance of LGBT people while fully colluding with both ecclesiastical heterosexism and homophobia.
Pope John Paul II embraces this theological qualifier.
During a special service on November 10th, he was presented by the New York City firefighters with the white helmet of their chaplain, the Rev. Mychal Judge. His white helmet was decorated with a cross.
Judge was a gay Franciscan priest who for years devotedly served the NYC Fire Department and who was loved by both his straight and gay fellow firefighters.
Judge was killed at the World Trade Center while giving last rites to a fellow firefighter fatally wounded.
Ignoring Judge the gay man, but acknowledging his deed, the pontiff addressed the delegation of firefighters at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica: “I offer a warm welcome to the delegation from the New York City Fire Department, so many of whose members lost their lives in the terrorist attack of September 11.”
While it is unlikely that the Pope knew of Judge’s sexual orientation during the time of the service, he would not have publicly mentioned it or acknowledge Judge if he did know. And it is the silence around Judge’s sexual orientation that makes him only partially seen.
Marianne Duddy, executive director of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity/USA, told The Advocate, “That’s how officials in the church deal with gay priests in general. They just want that side of the people to go away.”
The heroic deeds of LGBT people during the Sept. 11 attacks should not go unnoticed or be partially seen. However, Duddy points out the difficulty of being openly queer in front of John Paul: the difference is that we would never be received by the Pope to openly present symbols of our heroes.
While true heroism is to be honored and revered in all people, their acts of heroism are desecrated when we harbor fallacious beliefs that a person’s sexual orientation takes away from their deeds.
In only seeing heroism from a heterosexual lens, we not only partially see LBGT people, but we only partially see the strength of our nation.