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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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‘Sodom and Gomorrah’: ND Republican Unleashes Anti-LGBTQ Christian Nationalist Rant Calling for ‘Christ Is King’ Laws



North Dakota state Representative Brandon Prichard, a Republican who co-sponsored legislation that was passed in to law that bans all gender confirming surgeries and medication for minors in his state, went on an anti-LGBTQ Christian nationalist tirade including a call for state ordinances to declare “Jesus Christ is King.”

“Every conservative state should put into code that Jesus Christ is King and dedicate their state to Him. Force RINOs to say no to Jesus and then brutalize them in elections. We need a government of Christians, not fakers,” wrote Rep. Pritchard Sunday evening.

Pushback came swiftly, from politicos including former Republican and former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, who responded saying, “Not in this country. Never. Our Constitution won’t allow it. And that’s a damn good thing. Shame on you.”

Rep. Pritchard’s remarks in recent days have taken on a similarly strong Christian nationalist theme.

READ MORE: ‘Part of the Authoritarian Playbook’: Trump’s Courthouse Rant Slammed by Fascism Scholars

“Here is a simple test to determine if you are conservative: Should the church of Satan or satanic temple be allowed the freedom to worship in the same way as Christians? If you answer yes, you need to rethink your claimed political identity because you are not conservative,” he wrote Friday.

Later that same day he added, “Real conservatives will never put the constitution above natural law. The constitution is only useful insofar as it forces our government to limit power and pursue objective truth. It is a powerful means to an end, nothing more, nothing less.”

Over the weekend Pritchard issued a call to ban pornography, saying it “serves no positive benefit in society, destroys men, and treats women as objects.”

A social media account that appears to be for the adult site Just for Fans mocked him, writing on social media, “If you want to cancel an account, please contact our customer service department.”

READ MORE: McCarthy ‘Could Be a Former Speaker by the End of This Week’: Report

Also over the weekend Pritchard called for any Republican who thinks children should be allowed to attend drag shows be “censured or expelled from the party.”

He then wrote he was “extremely disappointed” with North Dakota State University “over their decision to have two homecoming kings and NO homecoming queen. People will be mad when I introduce a bill next session to say that state-funded schools cannot pick homecoming royalty of the same sex, but I didn’t start the fight.”

Pritchard also declared, “All schools should have LGBTQ history taught and lesson one should be Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Monday morning the lawmaker claimed, “All I want is to buy some land, raise a family, and mind my own business. Everything changes when you realize the left is militantly against this existence and will do everything to destroy our families and religion. We must take power or risk being controlled, it’s simple.”

The North Dakota state constitution requires lawmakers to take an oath that reads: “‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of North Dakota; and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of _________ according to the best of my ability, so help me God’ (if an oath), (under pains and penalties of perjury) if an affirmation, and any other oath, declaration, or test may not be required as a qualification for any office or public trust.”



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‘Part of the Authoritarian Playbook’: Trump’s Courthouse Rant Slammed by Fascism Scholars



Inside New York’s State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Donald Trump unleashed his anger on the first day of Attorney General Letitia James’ $250 million civil fraud lawsuit that has already led to the judge ordering the ex-president’s business licenses be revoked and his businesses dissolved.

One of Trump’s rants was highly-criticized by a fascism expert who compared it to language used by authoritarian strongmen including “Mussolini, Hitler, Berlusconi, Erdogan.”

Trump told reporters Monday the New York fraud case “is a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time.” He described Justice Arthur Engoron as a “rogue judge” and Attorney General James as a “racist attorney general” and a “horror show,” and the case against him “a scam” and “a sham.”

READ MORE: McCarthy ‘Could Be a Former Speaker by the End of This Week’: Report

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University professor of history and Italian studies, responded to Trump’s remarks, saying “the witch hunt/victimhood rhetoric is part of the authoritarian playbook and was/is used by the following corrupt leaders: Mussolini, Hitler, Berlusconi, Erdogan. If extended to the whole country being victimized, add Putin, Xi, and more.”

Fascism expert Federico Finchelstein, a historian and history department chair at New York’s New School for Social Research, responded to Trump’s comments: “Fascist lies are about the projection onto others of what fascists are/do. Trump today as usual displayed his wannabe fascist mindset.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, the former President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) exclaimed, “So he’s in the courthouse calling the judge ‘rogue’ and calling the prosecutor ‘racist.’ Not on the steps outside the courthouse (bad enough) but inside the very courthouse.”

READ MORE: ‘These Are Our National Secrets’: Democrat Slams GOP for Ignoring Trump Classified Documents Found ‘In the S——’

Trump also told reporters at the courthouse Monday that he’s been indicted because he’s running for president. Multiple reports have revealed he announced his White House run in an effort to avoid prosecution.

Watch the videos above or at this link.

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McCarthy ‘Could Be a Former Speaker by the End of This Week’: Report



At noon on Monday as the House opens for business U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) may file a motion to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy for crossing the aisle and working with Democrats to avoid a federal government shutdown just hours before midnight on Saturday.

The Florida lawmaker, who is blamed by his fellow Republicans for leading the shutdown charge, has very publicly blamed Speaker McCarthy for the crisis. On Sunday he vowed to end McCarthy’s leadership. McCarthy said he’s unafraid, but how he can keep his job without the help of House Democrats is being questioned, and if he does, how he governs his volatile GOP conference is also being questioned.

“Bring it on,” McCarthy said on CNN.

READ MORE: ‘Bad News’ for Sidney Powell as First Trump Co-Defendant in Georgia RICO Case Takes Plea Deal: Legal Expert

The Speaker also added, “let’s start governing.”

McCarthy’s call to “start governing” followed months of news reports detailing House Republicans’ infighting.

At the end of July, Axios ran a headline that read: “Congress gets a timeout after dysfunctional summer.”

“House members finally reached their August recess this weekend after a string of unusual, and at times contentious, incidents that clouded efforts to avoid a government shutdown,” the news outlet reported, pointing also to “January’s marathon speaker election to May and June’s close call on defaulting on the federal debt — not to mention conservatives’ unprecedented tactics to grind the House floor to a halt.”

On Tuesday, September 12, the House returned from its August recess.

“With less than three weeks remaining before government funding runs out on Sept. 30,” The New York Times reported Sunday, Sept. 10, “Congress has not cleared any of its 12 annual appropriations bills, though there has been more progress than in the recent past. Given the rapidly approaching deadline, leaders of both the House and the Senate agree that a temporary stopgap funding measure will be needed to avert a government shutdown beginning Oct. 1. But that usually routine legislation is facing major obstacles in the Republican-led House, making its path to President Biden’s desk unusually fraught.”

READ MORE: ‘Flying Monkeys on a Mission for the Wicked Witch’: Raskin Rips Republicans Over Impeachment ‘Inquiry’

Monday morning CNN’s Manu Raju reported, “McCarthy’s future could tested as soon as today. House opens at noon, and Gaetz could file his motion to oust him today. At that point, the speaker could try to table the motion — or kill it. That is what is expected. But if that fails, the motion to oust him would still be alive.”

The question may soon become, will Democrats save McCarthy’s speakership?

“One idea moderate Republicans are proposing to get Democrats on board with saving McCarthy is to revise the rules package that governs how the House operates – and discussing making changes to House Rules Committee,: Raju reports, adding House Democratic leaders are keeping their “powder dry,” meaning not indicating what they want their members to do.

Noting that the House is “lurching from crisis to crisis thanks to the dysfunction inside the GOP conference,” Punchbowl News Monday morning asked: “Can McCarthy survive?

Congressman Gaetz “acknowledged his effort is likely to fail, suggesting Democrats ‘probably will’ come to McCarthy’s rescue. Gaetz then criticized McCarthy for even considering the possibility of remaining speaker with Democratic support — despite the fact that Gaetz spent weeks courting Democrats in his bid to topple McCarthy.”

“Are we convinced McCarthy will get through this? No, not at all. McCarthy very well could be a former speaker by the end of this week,” Punchbowl News added.

Meanwhile, as questionable as McCarthy’s future is as Speaker, so is Gaetz’s future as a Congressman.

The Florida lawmaker faces a re-opened House Ethics Committee investigation into possible “sexual misconduct, illicit drug use and potential public corruption,” ABC News reported in July.

“House GOP members are seeking to quickly expel Gaetz if the ethics report comes back with findings of guilt,” CNN’s Jacqui Heinrich reported Sunday. “Following threats to vacate McCarthy, one tells me ‘No one can stand him at this point. A smart guy without morals.'”

Watch the videos above or at this link.


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