On September 11th, 2001, you and your fellow passengers on United Flight 93 overpowered the hijackers and forced the plane to crash into a field in Pennsylvania, thwarting further attacks on Washington DC and saving countless lives. But you were more than a group of people standing up to terror, you were Americans whose legacies deserve individual recognition. And yours includes acknowledgement of the fact that you were gay.
On the day you sacrificed your life, gays could not serve openly in the military, our relationships were disdained and ignored by the federal government, and we were largely pigeonholed as weak and timid. Today we serve proudly, can marry, and are more widely acknowledged for the strength it takes to be ourselves. Hell, an openly gay man is even running for President. And you helped form the foundation for that. You couldn’t have known it at the time, but when you stood up and fought back it wasn’t just against the terrorists on your plane, but also against the preconceived notions and prejudices facing the gay community as a whole.
I didn’t know you personally, but like so many in our community I embrace your legacy. You are woven into the fabric of our identity, not just because we are gay, but because you were brave, resolute, and unyielding.
On each anniversary of that tragic day, I’ve heralded your story in particular and have been met with the argument that 9/11 was about all of us and it shouldn’t matter that you were gay. But it does matter. If we do not honor and remember the sacrifice and circumstance of each 9/11 hero and what they’ve missed out on since then, we do a disservice to you all. So yes, it matters that you were gay and that you were kept from experiencing life on equal terms to your straight fellows.
Today, as I listen to anti-gay politicians and church leaders once again lionize and canonize the heroes of Flight 93, I’ll clench my jaw and remember that they are the same people who would be the first to deny your shared humanity. To repeal the progress made for people like us. To take away the dignity to which you were entitled but never got to experience. A world you were denied but that you helped build. Watching these hypocrites worship the memory of a man about whom they have chosen not to learn just reminds me to redouble my efforts to fight against their agendas.
Your sacrifice should be memorialized more than token jingoism. “Never forget” means always remembering who you were and, as a gay man, who you have allowed men like me to become.
This letter was submitted to the ‘Open Letters’ series. If you would like to contribute by writing a letter of your own, please contact Greg at [email protected]