Mark Bingham, 9/11 'hero', honoured by San Francisco.
September 10, 2002 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Mark Bingham, 9/11 'hero', honoured by San Francisco. "His presumed actions to thwart the terrorists' activities on board flight 93 helped derail the plan to crash that plane into a target in Washington, D.C."
On August. 15, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission voted to name the gym at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center in the city's Castro neighborhood after Bingham, a former nationally ranked rugby player. Mind you, it's a good job he didn't want to serve his country as a lawyer for the US Army, where gay heroes are not allowed - not even in the front line of Judge Advocate General's Corps of the United States military.
In the gay community, there is some dissent about the meaning behind a 'gay hero': would you have made assumptions about him, or other 'heroes', had you not known?
posted by dash_slot- (36 comments total)
Additionally, One Day's Pay, "a US nonprofit, has been launched encouraging people around the country to perform good deeds every Sept. 11 to honor and remember the former rugby player. Bingham was considered by many to be an incredibly noble man and upstanding citizen."
Alongside his memorial in the Leadership Fund, the Mayor of S.F. has declared September 16th "Mark Bingham Day".

I am unlikely to forget this brave man: his personality seems to come through far more strongly now than it possibly could have done, were it not for this tragedy. What a sad, ill wind.
posted by dash_slot- at 3:24 PM on September 10, 2002

Is it irony or just fact when you die your real image is reflected in memory; his, courageous.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:29 PM on September 10, 2002

I'd prefer to call Bingham just a hero, rather than a gay hero. What he did helped to preserve the lives of his fellow humans. That, hopefully, is a human trait, not a specifically gay one.

For an example of what I'd call a "gay hero", I point you to my high school biology teacher who, when I inadvertantly got outed in my junior year (1982), defended me against anyone who presumed to utter anything malign toward my homosexuality ... and this at a time when I was so deeply closeted and self-hating that I wouldn't even defend myself, because I truly believed that I was as evil and sick and disgusting as some of my classmates said I was. This leader, this hero, this teacher, helped me change all that.

No, the teacher wasn't a homosexual, but he was my personal "gay hero" because he taught me how to stand up for myself in all areas of my life, a lesson learned much earlier than I would have learned it if not for his example.

Ron Geyer, where ever you are, thank you.
posted by WolfDaddy at 3:33 PM on September 10, 2002

I had no clue he was gay. I wan't much inclined to reasearch into the sexual preferences of the Flight 93 passengers. Didn't seem like an important issue at the time. Still doesn't.
posted by TCMITS at 3:56 PM on September 10, 2002

This was great. An article/commentary by Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated that really captures the essence and value of sports.
posted by ajr at 4:06 PM on September 10, 2002

great post dash! and an interesting issue--can't he be both?

(stealing from Wolf) As long as there still are people in this country that still believe gay and lesbian people are evil and sick and disgusting, and there are, it's important that people know that we're heroes (and teachers and doctors and neighbors etc). I know I would have assumed he was straight unless told otherwise and i'm thrilled that I was told otherwise! (even a few years ago we might not have been told...) Does it matter? yes!!! maybe not to straight people, but it certainly did to me and my friends. I'm proud to claim him both as a hero and as a "gay hero."
posted by amberglow at 4:32 PM on September 10, 2002

I think that dividing people up, classifying them doesn't have to be bad. If you can appreciate our common humanity and appreciate genius, beauty, heroism from anyone, then there is nothing wrong with looking for these human features among people that are "like you" in terms of religion, race, sex, etc. (The if is the key of course. Pride becomes utterly evil as soon as it becomes about bring someone else or some other group down.)

And the flip side of this is to educate the the masses to dispel prejudice. Say that a bunch of folks think women aren't science minded. Then you tell them about Curie. Well, sure anecdotal evidence isn't worth shit in the lab, but that might be one more woman scientist than they/I/we knew about before and it might broaden someone's mind. The fact that Curie didn't think of herself as a woman scientist is irrelevant to this "use" of her.
posted by Wood at 4:38 PM on September 10, 2002

Of similar note the San Francisco held International Gay Rugby Cup was renamed the Bingham Cup in his honor.

I find it interesting that many didn't know he was gay. Here in San Francisco it was a large part of the Media coverage concerning Mark Bingham and his role as one of the hero's of flight 93.

Also if you haven't seen it This ESPN piece on Jeremy Glick, also a hero of flt.93 was one of the most touching reads I saw after the attack.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:47 PM on September 10, 2002

who knew ESPN was so...sensitive?
both pieces are great reads.

(only slightly off-topic) I got a rainbow-glurge email today: It made me cringe and moved me at the same time.
posted by amberglow at 4:58 PM on September 10, 2002

who knew ESPN was so...sensitive?

amberglow, ESPN also did a pretty good series of articles on gays in professional sports. Another good read for ya, even if it is five years old.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:04 PM on September 10, 2002

i will, Wolf--thanks!
posted by amberglow at 5:16 PM on September 10, 2002

It's already the 11th here. I tip my virtual hat to all th esurvivors, the victims and their loved ones.

Amberglow: that was just too sad.
Also: who would have guessed that 80% or more of those gay folks who are known to have died last year (12 months ago already?) and been commemorated in that piece, were partnered? That surprised me.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:21 PM on September 10, 2002

O/T: Wolfy [may I call you that ... (",)], how do you pronounce your teacher's name?
posted by dash_slot- at 5:22 PM on September 10, 2002

it's treacly, dash, but it worked. It was the couple with their 3-year-old son on one of the planes that got me in the heart...

These are just the people everyone knew about too...there were (i think) a lot more closeted people (it was Wall Street).

Wolf, that espn series is excellent so far...thanks!
posted by amberglow at 5:27 PM on September 10, 2002

dash_slot, you may call me anything but "late for dinner" and I'll usually respond. :-) The teacher's last name was pronounced "GUY-er".
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:29 PM on September 10, 2002

What struck me about the piece in the editorial was the quote from someone who kinda wanted Mark Bingham to be anonymous: I find it hard to judge that one, I can see the point, but at this stage of society's development, maybe visibility has a disproportioately positive effect.
I always thought the idea was for us all to come out, be ubiquitous but , well, normal.
Mundane. Quotidien. Average. Unremarkable. That, of course, implies that we can and are heroes proportionately to our incidence in the population. It rapidly becomes a pointless exercise, to discriminate.

What? I can dream can't I?

[GUY-er...oh well. But no guyer than you, I'd guess]
posted by dash_slot- at 5:52 PM on September 10, 2002

Quite the little gay ghetto we've got going here, eh?

Why's that, I wonder?
posted by dash_slot- at 5:54 PM on September 10, 2002

It's the fabulous color scheme.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:01 PM on September 10, 2002

I think you're right Dash, but we're certainly not there yet....and look at the positive effects--the Giuliani/Pataki thing, etc...Isn't part of Out and Advocate magazines (owned by the same people)--remember the whole "post-gay" thing that the english editor-in-chief (who they fired) was pushing?

also, Bingham wasn't closeted (they would have said so if he was), so why put him back into a closet at death?
posted by amberglow at 6:02 PM on September 10, 2002

It's not a real gay ghetto until I show up.

Thanks for the post, dash_slot. I was moved by Mr. Bingham's story when I first heard it last year and it's good to hear it again.

But what's with the scare quotes arround 'hero'? I perhaps understand your reticence to use such an overused term- sort of turns real heroism into a cliche- but in my book, Bingham is just plain hero. No quotes necessary.
posted by evanizer at 6:11 PM on September 10, 2002

Well y'know, Evvy (sorry, I'm gonna do this to death), I did that because nominating 'heroes' is not part of my regular way of thinking. But... the way these guys acted, averting a more dangerous outcome (that is, if they weren't shot down...) defines heroism for me. However, there was some opposition to the acclamation of Bingham as a 'gay' hero, which I can only make sense of if we say "he was a hero who also happened to be gay". Now that's kinda long-winded: black hero/ italian hero/ jewish hero... why not gay hero?

I was also hoping for some thoughts on the change in policy at Harvard I referred to up there: this guy was tops in all he did, but if he wanted to work in any branch of the military - even the legal side - this 'hero' would be rejected.

Just like you & me.

(oh, and _crashie_: I really wanna do a kind of tangerine ragwash effect on the grey side, waddya think? (".)
posted by dash_slot- at 6:31 PM on September 10, 2002

I am posting the following on behalf of my girlfriend, Nazli. She was a good friend of Mark's:

The very first thing I (and everyone who knew Mark) thought when they heard he was on that plane was that he was the reason the hijackers were unsuccessful. Really, that was my very first thought. He was
definitely a hero. He once wrestled a gun out of a mugger's hand and then proceeded to beat the crap out of him until the police got there. And it is important to state that he was gay, not because a 'gay hero' is an
anomaly, but because ignorant and prejudiced people who do not have the good fortune to know an amazing (gay) man like Mark might learn something from him.

If you'd like to learn more about Mark, please visit

posted by Optamystic at 6:49 PM on September 10, 2002

thanks Nazli! i'm sorry for your (and our) loss...he sounded like a great guy!
posted by amberglow at 6:52 PM on September 10, 2002

I think I understand your point, dash, but I couldn't say it any better than WolfDaddy did in the first paragraph of this post.

...and tangerine and grey is so 1988...
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:55 PM on September 10, 2002

Wow, thanks for that Optamystic (and Nazli)...

Dash (I will beat the crap out of you if you ever call me 'Evvy' again, sweetie!), I've had several friends and lovers who were active military men that were gay or bi. The were allowed to serve if they kept their sexuality officially private, even though many of their fellow soldiers knew that they were gay. It wasn't a big deal for some of them, since they didn't really define themselves as "gay soldiers" but for others it was painful that such an important aspect of themselves was considered grounds for ending their service to their country and fellow citizens. It's a dreadful policy that must end, no argument from me. Clinton's first campaign promise was to end the military policy of dishonorable discharges for gay military personnel, and it was the first promise he broke, with the dreadful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. I was a Clinton supporter until that betrayal, and I never forgave him for it.

After 9/11, the US military lifted the policy that openly gay soldiers could be discharged, and it seemed like a monumental victory, but I think "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was subsequently reinstated, much to my dismay. I don't have any links to back this up, but I clearly remember that the policy was at least briefly lifted.

What's the policy for the British military? I had a brief fling with a lad who was a member of the Royal Navy years ago, but I never asked him about attitudes in his country... is there a similar ban on openly gay people serving in the British military?
posted by evanizer at 7:08 PM on September 10, 2002

Oh jeez, Optamystic, that's the exact sort of testimony which gets me water works going. Must be a year since that happened... But I appreciate it. I've dropped her a line. This must be a particularly hard time for those with personal contacts to the victims. It's cracking me up, 1,000s of miles away.

Is Ev okay, Ev? I'll see if I can find out.
posted by dash_slot- at 7:24 PM on September 10, 2002

I personally have no idea what the term "gay hero" would mean. If the dude did indeed help take that plane away from terrorists, he rocks ... simple as that. Whether he is remembered as a "hero", or a "gay hero" probably depends more on who is doing the remembering than on him. I sort of doubt making it clear that he was gay will do anything like change people's minds about homosexuality - most are pretty much solid in whatever position they have.

As to whether the gay community wishes to use his heroic death and his sexual orientation to help some other agenda ... I think the answer to whether that is right or wrong is pretty simple - what would his family and loved ones want? What would he have wanted?
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:45 PM on September 10, 2002

Midas, i don't know if you can really call identifying someone as gay "helping some other agenda" ....everyone else who died on that flight that day and was involved in actively bringing the plane down has been identified as straight by the visible and continuing media presence of their spouse (Lisa Beamer comes to mind immediately)...

also, did you read Optamystic's post above?
posted by amberglow at 7:58 PM on September 10, 2002

About the discrimination by the Judge Advocate General's office, I mean? And the issue of discrimination in general against gay people? I don't want to make assumptions just cos I know of your generally conservative outlok.
posted by dash_slot- at 8:20 PM on September 10, 2002

Midas, i don't know if you can really call identifying someone as gay "helping some other agenda"

As sad as I am to have to disagree with you, amberglow, I can. And I will.

Earlier this year, a man named Clinton Scott Risetter was burned to death in my hometown by a lunatic that claimed Jesus told him to do it because he was gay. However, no one, not the victim's family nor his schoolmates back home, not the local community, not his employers, knew for sure whether or not the man was gay. Original news articles reported this fact, but now, with the passage, it appears to have been lost.

However, that little fact didn't stop the gay media from labeling the victim as gay to allow them to scream 'homophobic hate crime' from the top of their lungs. It didn't stop Representative Lois Capps from using his death to tell Congress that intolerance is still with us. It didn't stop my local gay and lesbian resource center from sending me a letter begging for more funding, after spending a hand-wringing couple of paragraphs about how they didn't want to appear to be capitalizing on the man's death.

Many agendas can be helped by labeling someone gay. Whether they are or not.


Oh, the links above are from, and there's sexy gay ads there, but all the ones I saw while researching this post are no more than pg-13 rated. Just so you know. Wouldn't want you to set me on fire just because I made you watch some hot man-on-man action. I flame enough already, thankyewverymuch.

And evanizer a Clinton supporter?!? My God, remind me never to betray you honey.
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:24 PM on September 10, 2002

grr. Should be 'with the passage of time'. Dammit.
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:25 PM on September 10, 2002

but Wolf, if the guy was a lunatic that claimed Jesus told him to do it because he was gay, isn't that setting the agenda right there, whether the guy was gay or not? It was anti-gay, and intolerant, and homophobic and a crime, because that guy could have killed anyone (gay or not) and if he used those words to justify what he did, then I absolutely think he set the agenda...maybe the guy was gay; maybe not; maybe closeted, but he was killed because a sicko thought he was.

If a gay rights group or politician used that crime to try to raise funds, or to get laws passed--they were responding, not initiating some agenda. And that's what all advocates of any position do, but it's not always by their initiative. Of course people and institutions have agendas, but it's not always that calculated...I've found more often than not, that organizations are responding to some event in the world where the agenda has already been set by others--whether by a horrible crime, or a tragedy like 9/11.

I wish more organizations had used Bingham's example (not just gay orgs.) because it's a tremendous symbol of our diversity and strength as a country....unfortunately we're not at that point yet in our society where a gay hero has the same value as a Todd Beamer...

maybe i'm agreeing with you in a way, but something in me repels at that term (and it's almost always used perjoratively), and it sounds too cold and calculating to judge human worth by what it can do for me or my cause (whatever it may be)

and badpuppy is very tame, by my standards! ; >
posted by amberglow at 8:46 PM on September 10, 2002

posted by amberglow at 8:48 PM on September 10, 2002

amberglow, if my elected Representative, if my local community resource, if the media had said "We're bringing this to your attention because we live in a world where anyone can be immolated simply because someone else thought he was gay," I'd support any measure proposed in Congress, send my check to the center, and write praise-filled letters to the media.

None of them chose to do that, however. Thus, my cynicism and ire at the whole situation. Rather than present the facts in a light that would give gays, straights, and the vast majority in-between a "gee, that could happen to me, too," pause for thought, about the only thing that's come out of the whole awful thing is local homosexuals and politicians building shrines to evangelize a man in death they hardly (if at all) knew in life, accepting contributions that will do nothing to address the real problem at hand, that of people's perceptions.

Bleah, I say.

Drop me an e-mail and we'll compare standards. ;-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:29 PM on September 10, 2002

After 9/11, the US military lifted the policy that openly gay soldiers could be discharged, and it seemed like a monumental victory, but I think "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was subsequently reinstated, much to my dismay.

They suspended the rule during Desert Storm as well. Apparently it's SOP to do so to prevent people from using homosexuality as an excuse (legitimate or not) to get out of active duty. There was a story about the policy at the time that I can't find now.
posted by hilker at 12:01 AM on September 11, 2002

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