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For Gay 9/11 Heroes, Sung And Unsung, Love Is Eternal



“I love you – don’t ever forget that! When you’re feeling lonely and I’m not home with you, just pull out this letter and read my words to you once again and know how much you will always mean to me!”

–Jeffrey Dwayne Collman, September 28, 1959 – September 11, 2001

When David Badash asked his contributors to submit a piece in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, my first thought was about the heroes. Each of us needs heroes. To a young gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person growing up in terrifying aloneness the truth about the sexual orientation of famous figures means that your sexual feelings don’t make you an automatic loser. As a boy growing up in the 1940’s and 50’s I found my heroes mostly in books: stories of Achilles and his love for Patroclus, David and Jonathan whose love “was wonderful passing the love of women,” Alexander the Great and Hephaestion – these were the men I idolized, the relationships I longed for. Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Eakins and of course the occasional diver, wrestler and gymnast furnished the images about whom I fantasized.

In this era which nurtured the Army-McCarthy hearings and equated homosexuality with traitors and molesters of young boys, the portrayal of men who loved each other as heroes was not something I found in magazines and newspapers, or on the radio or TV. Oh, I knew Batman and Robin and I had something in common and the English teacher on whom I had a crush was different from the rest of my teachers. But it was a time of secrecy and in our culture secrecy is often equated with shame. In my teens I expanded my pantheon of Queer heroes to include Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde and Bayard Rustin and as I have matured my assembly of heroes continues to increase.

Times have changed, queer culture is no longer shrouded in secrecy and shame, but the truth about famous figures too often still remains closeted. There are lots of heroes associated with 9/11 and many are probably lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — but we have only heard about a few.

“As the days went by, we learned that some of the missing rescue personnel were gay, and that many of their lovers, some of whom are cops and fire fighters, were grieving in silence for fear of outing them. There were also gay cops that lost family members that were rescue personnel. We all learned too quickly and in too cruel a way that the closet is a terrible place to grieve…” observed Edgar Rodriguez, NYPD.

One gay 9/11 hero we heard a lot about was Father Mychal Judge, The Firemen’s Friar, whose gayness was an open secret, but a secret nonetheless. In a contemporaneous account a writer for The White Crane Journal talks about his interaction with Cardinal Edward Egan after Father Mychal’s funeral.

There is a word that upset Cardinal Edward Egan more than “terrorist” and that is the word “gay.” After the funeral service for Father Mychal Judge, the fire chaplain who perished ministering to a dying fireman at the World Trade Center, I tried to ask Egan, “Given Father Mychal’s many contributions to the gay community and all you’ve just heard about how loving and loved he was, does it make you want to rethink your condemnation of homosexuality?” When Egan heard the word “gay,” he didn’t wait for the question. “Oh, COME ON!” he thundered as he abruptly turned away. Purple with rage, he literally ran to his car. Egan’s response explains Mychal Judge’s decision not to be a more outspoken gay activist– something that he debated with me, host of a gay news show on TV that he said he enjoyed, and others over the years. Cardinals John O’Connor or Egan would certainly have put an end to his ability to function as a priest in this Archdiocese, a role that allowed him to roam the city in his brown Franciscan habit giving solace and strength to countless New Yorkers. It might also have meant the loss of his chaplaincy serving his beloved fire fighters, even though he enjoyed the support of the Fire Commissioner, Mayor, and virtually all the rank and file.

At his wake and funeral, Mychal Judge, 68, was mourned and celebrated by his two sisters, brother Franciscans, elderly nuns who were his grade school teachers, powerful friends, diverse parishioners, the homeless and others he served, and scores of fire fighters, some covered with dust from the catastrophe downtown. But evidence of Judge’s involvement with the gay community– and his wary relationship with the church hierarchy– was hiding in plain sight.

Public Advocate Mark Green spoke of how he served people of “every orientation.”

The night before, his 23 years in Alcoholics Anonymous were invoked, but not that Judge went mostly to gay AA meetings. His gay brothers from the program were all over the church.

Present in the pews were Judge’s close friends, gay couple Brendan Fay and Tom Moulton. Judge had openly supported (and surreptitiously funded) Fay’s Queens St. Patrick’s Parade that welcomed gay groups, the only Catholic priest to do so. (The next one, on March 3, is dedicated to Judge’s memory.) And when the Emerald Society of the Fire Department honored Father Mychal, he had Brendan and Tom as his guests and the couple danced together at the banquet.

Unlike Father Mychal, another prominent hero, Mark Bingham was openly gay and proud of it. Like Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was murdered by a different breed of terrorists, Alice Hoagland honors her son Mark’s memory by being an advocate for LGBT equality. “I may have lost a son, but I’ve gained a very huge family and it makes me feel good every time I see them,” she said.

Bingham, 31, was the rugby player who as a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, helped to thwart the plane’s hijackers. For once, many of the reports of Bingham’s life mentioned his being gay and they sometimes referenced other gay heroes.

“When you ask what difference it makes if the heroes were gay, I say, I agree with you. That’s precisely our point. They were like everyone else. So we ask why is it when they died, they were equal to everyone, but had they lived, they would not have the same equality as heterosexuals?” asked Judy Weidner, then editor in chief of The Advocate.

Weidner was wrong – when they died, the gay and lesbian victims and their survivors were not “equal to everyone” and it wasn’t only victims’ mothers who were motivated to become advocates for LGBT equality.

In September 2003, while still lobbying to receive money from the federal victim’s compensation fund, Keith Bradkowski testified before a Senate subcommittee hearing on banning same-sex civil marriage rights titled, “What is Needed to Defend the Bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act of 1996?

It was on a Tuesday, almost exactly two years ago, that I received a call from American Airlines notifying me that I had lost my life partner, Jeff Collman. Jeff was an American Airlines flight attendant who volunteered to work an extra trip on September 11th. His flight was the first of four planes hijacked by terrorists that day. I know in my heart Jeff died with courage, trying to protect the passengers and crew. The last time I spoke with Jeff – who was my soul mate of 11 years – was at about at 2 a.m. Boston time on the morning of the 11th. He had awoken in the middle of the night and uncharacteristically called me to say “I love you and can’t wait to get home.” I believe he must have had some premonition of the events to come, and I feel blessed to have had that last moment with him.

Jeff was the ultimate caregiver — I experienced his caring by the trail of post-it notes he left for me every time he went on a trip. His last note, still on my bathroom mirror, greets me every morning with a “Guess who loves you?” Jeff and I had exchanged rings and we were married in our hearts. Legally, it was another matter entirely. After his death, I was faced not only with my grief over losing Jeff – who was indeed my better half – but with the painful task of proving the authenticity of our relationship over and over again. With no marriage license to prove our relationship existed, even something as fundamental as obtaining his death certificate became a monumental task. Like so many other gay Americans, my mourning and grief were compounded by the stress and anxiety of horrific legal uncertainty and confusion.

The terrorists who attacked this country killed people not because they were gay or straight – but because they were Americans. It is heart wrenching that our own government does not protect its citizens equally, gay and straight, simply because they are Americans. Two years ago we were all united against the common threat of terrorism. Now, less than two years later I am sitting here and being told that my relationship was a threat to our country. Jeff and I only sought to love and take care of each other. I do not understand why that is a threat to some people, and I cannot understand why the leaders of this country would hold a hearing on the best way to prevent that from happening.

Despite objections by some, including Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, and Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality — who called the inclusion of benefits for 9/11 same-sex survivors an attempt to further the homosexual agenda, about 20 lesbian and gay survivors whose partners had died were, with much struggle, able to obtain some of the same benefits extended to partners of heterosexual victims.

On January 22, 2004 Peggy Neff, who lost her partner of 18 years, Sheila Hein, in the attack on the Pentagon was awarded $557,390. It was the first time a same-sex domestic partner had been awarded federal money in such a case.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 many of our heroes were ignored. While a great deal has been said about the men — the emergency workers, firefighters, and police officers who so quickly became new American heroes –very little was written about women.

In 2002, EMT worker and firefighter Susan Hagen and social worker Mary Carouba partially corrected this omission with Women at Ground Zero: Stories of Courage and Compassion, a book that focuses on 20 of the 9/11 heroes.

Lesbian, transgender, gay and bisexual responders remain invisible.

Tom Musbach, of wrote, “Francis S. Coppola, a New York City detective whose partner, a firefighter named Eddie, died in the attacks, summed up the bipolar feelings many GLBT people have had about Sept. 11. I have never been more proud of being an American or a New Yorker, but at the same time it has made me sad. The greatest country in the world, and yet we are treated like second-class citizens…. The great love of my life died doing what he did best and what he loved to do: helping others. I have never been an activist or ever wanted to be one; however, it is time we stand up and be counted and demand equality — nothing more or nothing less.”

Yes, we each of us need heroes. But reading about ancient heroes and famous figures whose sexuality is insinuated or ambiguous is no longer enough. Our new civil rights movement demands that our history and herstory no longer be distorted or concealed. Fame isn’t always synonymous with heroism; there are countless quiet heroes. Heroism has many definitions. Sometimes being a hero is simply speaking the truth. Sometimes being a hero is speaking your truth.

In that 2003 Senate hearing, “What is Needed to Defend the Bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act of 1996?,” Keith Bradkowski concluded his testimony:

In closing, I would like to read an excerpt from a letter that Jeff wrote to me on our last anniversary:

“Keith, we’ve been through much the past 11 years. Our lives haven’t always been easy, but through it all, our undeniable love for each other has carried us through! I love you – don’t ever forget that! When you’re feeling lonely and I’m not home with you, just pull out this letter and read my words to you once again and know how much you will always mean to me! With loving thoughts of you now and forever, Jeff.”

I truly believe I have learned the meaning of the phrase – Love is Eternal.

Image, top: “Terrifying Aloneness,” by John Breitweiser
Oil on Paper, 1993
Photo courtesy of the Artist

Stuart Wilber is a Seattle activist who skipped classes in high school to watch the McCarthy- Army Hearings. Having seen it get better and worse and better again over the years, he continues to hope he will experience full federal equality in his lifetime. 

Stuart Wilber’s heroes are many; their stories need to be told. 

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‘On Standby’: Experts Say Manhattan Hush Money Grand Jury Delay ‘Not All That Surprising’



In a last-minute surprise move the grand jury examining the Manhattan District Attorney’s hush money case against Donald Trump was called off after being told to show up Wednesday afternoon, leaving some to wonder why. Many anticipated jurors would be voting on a possible indictment of the ex-president, one he wrongly claimed would come on Tuesday.

“The grand jury has been told to stay home today. They’re on standby for tomorrow,” an unnamed senior law-enforcement official said, Politico reports. A spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told Politico, “We can’t confirm or comment on Grand Jury matters.”

Meanwhile, CNN’s Paula Reid reports, “Sources tell CNN that prosecutors have been in touch with an attorney for at least one witness, and they signal that they’re leaving the door open for that witness to potentially come back to give additional testimony.”

“One of the big questions right now is whether this grand jury has actually completed its investigation or whether they will need to hear from additional witnesses.”

READ MORE: Jim Jordan’s Attack on Manhattan DA Will ‘Backfire’ and Allow Democrats to Expose Coordination With Trump: Columnist

Reid says it’s also possible prosecutors are “taking a moment to really consider the historic weight of indicating a former U.S. president.”

Experts are offering insight on the delay, with some pointing to tying up “loose ends,” others suggesting security concerns, and others say delays like this are to be expected.

Top national security attorney Brad Moss commented on Reid’s CNN report, saying: “Interesting. Makes sense.”

Overnight, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance wrote, “Wherever the truth lies about what’s going on in Manhattan, that timeline suggests there may not be an indictment tomorrow or even this week.” After news that the grand jury would not meet Wednesday broke, she pointed to that remark and wrote: “This now looks like it will be the case.”

That echoes a little noticed Fox News report from Monday that indicated any possible indictment would not come before next week.

READ MORE: Trump Calls for Congress to Investigate NY AG After Judge Refuses to Delay $250 Million Fraud Trial Against Ex-President

A law enforcement “source said law enforcement does not expect the former president to be arraigned until next week as the Manhattan grand jury – which has been meeting secretly to hear evidence for weeks – has another witness on Wednesday. A virtual option was apparently ruled out as the DA is opposed to it.”

Could security be the reason for the delay? On Tuesday, award-winning reporter Carol Leonnig said law enforcement agencies are investigating “chilling” threats, including against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg

“I have received copies and screenshots and internal documents and emails flagging concerns about specific protests, investigations into specific online threats that have been made that are not yet determined to be ‘credible and likely to occur’ but have been chilling nonetheless in terms of the threats that have been made about killing certain people,” said Leonnig, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author, on MSNBC’s “Deadline: White House.”

Former New York prosecutor Tristan Snell, who successfully helped prosecute the New York Attorney General’s case against Trump University, pointed to security measures as a possible reason for the delay.

“Most likely reason: all the law enforcement coordination and security logistics that are being worked out, including with NYPD and Secret Service,” Snell offered. “They don’t want to indict and then have a long gap between indictment and arrest/arraignment.”

He also noted, “part of the security is to ensure the GRAND JURORS themselves — 23 regular New Yorkers, doing their civic duty — are protected from a defendant who incites violence.”

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said: “Based on what we know publicly, there are plenty of loose ends that prosecutors may need to tie up, so delay is not all that surprising.”

Watch the CNN video above or at this link.


Image: Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock

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Jim Jordan’s Attack on Manhattan DA Will ‘Backfire’ and Allow Democrats to Expose Coordination With Trump: Columnist



Republican House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan‘s unprecedented attack on Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg this week will “backfire” on the GOP, according to a Washington Post columnist who spoke with House Democrats.

Chairman Jordan, who has no constitutional oversight authority over an elected county district attorney, demanded Bragg hand over documents and communications and testify before Congress about his criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s hush money payoffs and business practices. Some believe an indictment could come as early as Wednesday afternoon.

“If Jim Jordan and MAGA Republicans attack the Manhattan DA’s potential indictment of Trump, Democrats will use the proceedings to draw attention to coordination between House Republicans and Trump’s legal team, Dems tell me,” The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent said Wednesday via Twitter. “This will backfire on the GOP.”

Sargent adds House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Jamie Raskin told him: “This is an extreme move to use the resources of Congress to interfere with a criminal investigation at the state and local level.” Raskin likened “GOP ‘political culture’ to ‘authoritarian dictatorships.'”

READ MORE: ‘Chilling’: Law Enforcement ‘Seriously’ Investigating Threats Ahead of Possible Trump Indictment Says Top WaPo Reporter

Sargent says Democrats “can use this against the GOP.”

He adds: “Trump’s lawyer sen[t] a letter to Jim Jordan urging an investigation into any charges against Trump, the NYT reports. Dems will use any hearings that Jordan holds to shed light on coordination between Trump’s legal team and House Republicans, aides tell me.”

In his Wednesday Washington Post opinion column Sargent calls on Democrats to “marshal some serious creativity in response” to Republican attacks.

“The extraordinary move by House Republicans to insert themselves into Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s investigation of Trump provides Democrats with an opening to do just that,” he says.

Sargent says “it’s not clear that Jordan, the Judiciary Committee chair, has thought this through. The course of action signaled by the letter — also signed by Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) — could go sideways for Republicans in unforeseen ways.”

READ MORE: US Secretary of State Denounces Uganda’s New ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill

Raskin is an attorney, constitutional law professor, and was the lead impeachment manager for the second impeachment of Donald Trump. He has become a leading voice for American democratic values and in the fight against the MAGA Republicans.

“If and when there is an indictment, we will be able to reconstruct all the facts of this case in a way that makes sense to the American public,” Raskin told Sargent, who explains: “The aim, he noted, would be to ‘show the justice process is working, and there is no call for extraordinary intervention by the U.S. Congress.'”

Sargent warns, “A Trump indictment will unleash months of information warfare around a numbingly complex matter never before litigated in the public arena. Democrats sometimes undervalue the importance of sheer creativity in politics, and as ugly as the GOP response has been, Republicans are responding to unprecedented circumstances with new innovations. Democrats must meet them on that battlefield.”

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US Secretary of State Denounces Uganda’s New ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill



U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is publicly denouncing Uganda’s latest Anti-Homosexuality legislation, which is being called a “Kill the Gays” bill for its capital punishment penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The legislation passed in a nearly-unanimous vote and now heads to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni‘s desk.

“The Anti-Homosexuality Act passed by the Ugandan Parliament yesterday would undermine fundamental human rights of all Ugandans and could reverse gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We urge the Ugandan Government to strongly reconsider the implementation of this legislation,” Secretary Blinken said via Twitter Wednesday morning.

Uganda, a far-right religious country has a long history of targeting and marginalizing its LGBTQ citizens, including passing a modified “Kill the Gays” bill that was signed into law in 2014, only to be overturned in court on a technicality. That law was drafted and promoted with the aid of American far-right evangelicals.

READ MORE: Florida GOP Lawmaker Who Wrote ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Facing Up to 35 Years After Pleading Guilty in COVID Fraud Case

Ugandan lawmakers on Tuesday passed legislation that makes being LGBTQ illegal, proscribes the death penalty for certain same-sex acts, and decades or life in prison for identifying as LGBTQ. It also requires anyone with knowledge of another person being LGBTQ or engaging in same-sex acts to be reported to the government.

“All but two of the 389 legislators voted late on Tuesday for the hardline anti-homosexuality bill, which introduces capital and life imprisonment sentences for gay sex and ‘recruitment, promotion and funding’ of same-sex ‘activities’,” The Guardian reports.

“A person who commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality and is liable, on conviction to suffer death,” the bill states.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, in a statement warned: “If the bill is signed into law, it will render LGBTIQ+ people in Uganda criminals simply for existing, for being who they are. It could provide carte blanche for the systematic violation of nearly all of their human rights and serve to incite people against each other.”

READ MORE: ‘Chilling’: Law Enforcement ‘Seriously’ Investigating Threats Ahead of Possible Trump Indictment Says Top WaPo Reporter

One of the two Ugandan Members of Parliament who voted against the bill, Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, calls it “ill-conceived,” and says parts are “unconstitutional.”

He says it “reverses the gains registered in the fight against gender-based violence and criminalises individuals instead of conduct that contravenes all known legal norms.”

President Museveni, who signed into law a modified version of the 2014 “Kill the Gays” bill, will now have to decide if he wants to sign this version as well.


Image: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

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