Weekend Beach Bum
|by Eric Morrison|
The thick smoke in New York City has begun to clear and we've started rebuilding the Pentagon. The families and friends of thousands killed in terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania have grieved, and we have grieved with them. We have flown flags, sent checks, and said our prayers.
Since September 11, I have shed many tears, screamed at the television, and made charitable donations. I have choked back tears at daily reminders of just how many lives were lost. I have felt great pride well up inside with every red, white, and blue tapestry I have seen. Still, it is often difficult for me to be an American.
I am an American. I am also gay. Therefore, I have what twentieth century African-American writer Richard Wright termed "double consciousness." My eyes see things as both an American and as a gay man. This double consciousness has plagued my mind even more than usual as of late.
When I first learned of the attacks, my mind instantly responded, "What can I do? What can I give?" Feeling very red, white, and blue, I wrote out a check. But I wanted to do more. Just then, a desperate plea for much needed blood flashed across the TV screen. I frantically scribbled down the 800 number. But before I began to dial the telephone, I rememberedthe Red Cross doesn't accept my blood. My blood is considered no better than that of prostitutes or IV drug users. My patriotic bubble quickly burst.
I cried tears of pride and frustration when I learned about Mark Bingham. He was one of four brave men aboard United Flight 93, doomed to crash in Pennsylvania. He and three other men quite possibly saved the Capitol Building or even the White House. Mark Bingham is a hero. Mark Bingham was gay. He gave his life for a country in which he could not marry his life partner, in which he could lose his house or his job for being gay, in which he is part of an often despised and ignored minority, in which he could have been attacked on the streets, like hundreds of other gay persons are each year.
But Mark Bingham was brave for America anyway. Like me and many other gay men, Mark Bingham was probably taunted with "sissy" and "faggot" throughout his school days. No one is hurling epithets now. Instead, we call him "hero." The widow of Todd Beamer, another unsuspecting hero aboard United Flight 93, has received empathy, standing ovations, and a medal from the President. Mark Bingham's life partner did not receive the same. That makes me sad and angry. If I may wear my proverbial heart on my sleeve for a moment...it just plain hurts.
Not long after September 11, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and other members of the religious right suggested that God allowed such a tragedy to befall America because we have moved away from "traditional Christian values." The religious right targeted two groups in particular for the failure of God's gracious hand to protect America: abortion rights activists and homosexuals. After my initial guffaws at such a ridiculous notion, I became enraged. Momentarily, fury replaced the patriotism in my heart.
Since the modern gay civil rights movement began in 1969, my people have been blamed, at least in part, for a myriad of social ills: the climbing divorce rate, declining church attendance, increased drug use, decreased moral values, even child molestation. My blood boiled at the thought that someone like Mark Bingham could be considered subversive to America. Mark Bingham saw something wrong, and he did his best to make it right. I like to think that's the stuff that all Americansincluding gay Americansare made of.
When we go to war, I think of the gay men and women of the armed forces who will sacrifice their lives for a country that at best, ignores them, that at worst, despises them. In 1999, Pfc. Barry Winchell, of the United States Army, was brutally murdered as he slept in his Fort Campbell, Kentucky barracks. No terrorist masterminded this attack. A fellow army enlistee bludgeoned Pfc. Winchell to death with a baseball bat labeled "FAG WHACKER" in red marker. Many other armed forces members have suffered similar deaths, but you don't hear about them on CNN.
According to many, gay people are not even good enough to defend America. Last year, 1,231 persons were officially discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces, the largest number since 1993, when the ridiculous "don't ask, don't tell" policy was instituted. This number does not begin to include thousands of gays and lesbians dismissed for other fallacious reasons, or those who resign. Yet, thousands of gay and lesbian Americans continue to proudly serve "their" country. I cannot help but remember the thousands of African-Americans who sacrificed their lives in World Wars I and II, despite their abominable lack of rights.
Why do people like Mark Bingham and the gays and lesbians of our armed forces stand up for America although America won't stand up for them? They believe in the promise of America, in its egalitarian and inclusive vision. Let us learn from the events of September 11. When we begin to return to life as "normal," let us stand as an America united and stronger than ever. Let that vision include the gays and lesbians of America. Let that vision include heroes like Mark Bingham.
Eric Morrison lives in Wilmington, Delaware. He can be reached in care of Letters or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 11, No. 14, October 19, 2001.