CommunityPam's House Blend

Five years ago

A grainy image I took with an old Palmpix camera at night while on a boat ride on July 11, 2001.

Two months later, we all know what happened.


And right out of the box came soothing words like these, putting the blame for the events of 9/11 right where it logically belonged:

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'”
— Rev Tinkywinky to 700 Club’s Crazy Pat Robertson.

and Crazy Pat concurred by adding this:

“We have sinned against Almighty God, at the highest level of our government, we’ve stuck our finger in your eye. The Supreme Court has insulted you over and over again, Lord. They’ve taken your Bible away from the schools. They’ve forbidden little children to pray. They’ve taken the knowledge of God as best they can, and organizations have come into court to take the knowledge of God out of the public square of America.”

Falwell later apologized, but gays remain a convenient whipping boy; as he told Soulforce’s Mel White, who served as his ghostwriter for years before coming out:

Thank God for these gay demonstrators. If I didn’t have them, I’d have to invent them. They give me all the publicity I need.

That tells us all that we need to know.


365gay has an excellent roundup of 9/11 coverage from the gay perspective, including profiles of Father Mychal Judge, who died after being hit by falling debris from the collapse of Tower 2 while giving last rites to a dying NYFD first responder, and Mark Bingham, one of the passengers on United Flight 93, as well as some of the gay men and women who perished that day.

One was Sheila Hein, who died in the Pentagon attack, leaving behind partner Peggy Neff. Neff was the first surviving partner to be receive an award of benefits by the director of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. Even with that bright light — because Hein’s mother fully supported Naff receiving compensation — many surviving partners received nothing. Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart points out the legacy of the lack of legal protections and 9/11 in an op-ed for 365gay.

Roughly two dozen lesbians and gay men that we know of lost a partner in the September 11th attacks, and less than a quarter of those people received the benefits automatically awarded to married spouses. Some of those “benefits” boiled down to fundamental rights and responsibilities like being able to obtain a death certificate and to make arrangements for a partner’s remains. On top of the intense sorrow of tragically losing a loved one, surviving partners also suffered the indignity of having to prove the validity of their relationship over and over again — and that was in the best of circumstances, when people had taken the time to write a will and health care proxy or, where applicable, register as domestic partners.

…One man we assisted had a terrible uphill climb because his deceased partner had not dissolved his former marriage. Another experienced tremendous difficulty coping with his partner’s death and the hostility of his partner’s blood relatives to his claim, and, sadly, took his own life. Some survivors were unable to file at all because they did not meet the government’s criteria. It’s important that we remember all of these stories as surviving spouses and partners read the names at Ground Zero and others are memorialized throughout the country. Or how about this: Let’s pay tribute to those who’ve died by protecting those who are still alive. Write a will, fill out a health care proxy and other key documents — until we win full equality, it’s the best thing you can do.

And remember, since 2001, many states have passed restrictive marriage amendments that further clouds matters for partners — those who do file those essential legal documents cannot be assured that they will survive a challenge by hostile family members.

Virginia has an amendment on the ballot this year; it will ban civil unions, partnerships or any legal status approximating the rights conveyed with marriage. There is already an exodus of gay families from the state because of the looming legal landscape.

The gays and lesbians who signed up to serve our country after the towers fell and the Pentagon burned must serve in silence or be discharged simply for being who they are, no matter how skilled or essential their talents are as servicemembers.

We have a long way to go, despite the gay heroes of 9/11 and beyond.

Check out SLDN’s Frontlines blog this week for a series of posts on reflections on the events of 9/11 and its impact on LGBT America.


Share your thoughts about this, what you you remember about 9/11 and what you did that day.

I was at work, and stayed the whole day, though in a daze. I have many relatives in NYC and was worried sick about them (some were among those who walked across the bridge that day, covered in the white ashen debris). I couldn’t get through because all circuits were busy.

Actually, my first thought, in the panic and shock, was to call my mom. I picked up the phone and began to dial an old number in Brooklyn.

My mother died in 1997.

I wanted to know she was OK, what she thought about what happened, etc. I put the phone down and began to cry, then tried calling my brother in Delaware. After several attempts I finally got through. I do remember talking to him and he had felt the same impulse to talk to Mom when he learned about the news.

This is where your brain can go when it feels like the world is in chaos.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding