Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gay saints of 9/11: Mychal Judge and Mark Bingham

“Father Mychal Judge” by Brother Robert Lentz,

Two gay men died heroically helping others in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in 2001: a priest and a rugby champion.

Father Mychal Judge (1933-2001), chaplain to New York City firefighters, was killed while praying and administering sacraments at the World Trade Center. He is considered a saint by many.

Mark Bingham (1970-2001) lost his life while fighting back against hijackers on Flight 93. He and others stormed the cockpit after they realized that the terrorists planned to use the plane as a weapon in a suicide mission. They tried to stop the terrorists from reaching their Washington, DC target and killing hundreds or thousands more victims. The plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania. If not a saint, Bingham is certainly a hero and a martyr whose death helped save others. Lesbian rock singer Melissa Etheridge pays tribute to him in her song “Tuesday Morning.” It includes these lyrics:

Even though he could not marry
Or teach our children in your schools
Because who he wants to love
Is breaking your God's rules

He stood up on a Tuesday morning
In the terror he was brave
And he made his choice, and without a doubt
A hundred lives he must have saved

In addition to playing rugby, Bingham founded his own public relations firm. He was survived by his companion of eight years, Paul Holm.

Father Mychal Judge also responded quickly when extremists flew hijacked planes into the twin towers. He rushed with firefighters into the north tower right after the first plane hit. Refusing to be evacuated, he prayed and administered sacraments as debris crashed outside. He saw dozens of bodies hit the plaza outside as people jumped to their deaths. His final prayer, repeated over and over, was “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”

While he was praying, Father Mychal was struck and killed in a storm of flying steel and concrete that exploded when the south tower collapsed. He was the first officially recorded fatality of the 9/11 attack. Father Mychal was designated as Victim 0001 because his was the first body recovered at the scene. More than 2,500 people from many nationalities and walks of life were killed. Thousands more escaped the buildings safely.

After Father Mychal’s death, some of his friends revealed that he considered himself a gay man. He had a homosexual orientation, but by all accounts he remained faithful to his vow of celibacy as a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan order.

The charismatic, elderly priest was a long-term member of Dignity, the oldest and largest national lay movement of LGBT Catholics and their allies. Father Mychal voiced disagreement with the Vatican’s condemnation of homosexuality, and found ways to welcome Dignity’s AIDS ministry despite a ban by church leaders. He defied a church boycott of the first gay-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens, showing up in his habit and granting news media interviews.

Many people, both inside and outside the GLBT community, call Father Mychal a saint. He has not been canonized by his own Roman Catholic Church, but some feel that he has already become a saint by popular acclamation, and the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America did declare officially declare him a saint. For more info on Father Mychal, visit his Wikipedia entry or the Saint Mychal Judge Blog.

“Holy Passion Bearer Mychal Judge and St. Francis of Assisi”
By Father William Hart McNichols

The above icon by Father William Hart McNichols shows Father Mychal with St. Francis of Assisi as the World Trade Center burns behind them. They hold out a veil to gather and help people who cry out in times of violence and terror. In the text accompanying the icon, Father McNichols describes Father Mychal as a Passion Bearer who “takes on the on-coming violence rather than returning it… choosing solidarity with the unprotected.” The icon is featured in “You will be My Witnesses: Saints, Prophets and Martyrs” by William Hart McNichols and Daniel Berrigan.

Father McNichols is a renowned iconographer and Roman Catholic priest based in New Mexico. He has a deep connection to New York City because he worked at an AIDS hospice there in the 1980s. After earning a Master of Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute in New York, McNichols studied icon painting with the Russian-American master Robert Lentz, whose icon of Mychal Judge also appears here.

Lentz is a Franciscan friar known for his innovative icons. He is stationed at St. Bonaventure University, in Olean, New York, where he hopes to establish a school of Franciscan iconography. His Mychal Judge icon is one of the queer images included in “Christ in the Margins” by Robert Lentz.

Both McNichols and Lentz have faced controversy for painting gay-positive icons. They are two of the 11 artists whose life and work are featured in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” by Kittredge Cherry.

Related links:
Mark Bingham: Gay hero of 9/11 died fighting hijackers

Saint Mychal Judge Blog (very complete and up-to-date!)

Mychal Judge is the first recorded victim of 9/11 -- and also the first saint in the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series began on Sept. 11, 2009, and has grown to include more than 40 saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) and queer people and our allies. They are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

The Mychal Judge icon is available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at


Trudie said...

An absolutely magnificent post and memorial for 9/11. Thanks for again sharing these wonderful icons and the accompanying stories.

Kittredge Cherry said...

I blogged about Father Mychal last year on 9/11, but this year I added Mark Bingham -- thanks to a suggestion from Stephen. I believe that the addition has enriched my presentation of 9/11 -- showing two contrasting ways of being a proactive gay saint/hero -- prayer and resistance.

Turtle Woman said...

This is good stuff. I don't think a lot of people know the whole story of this, including the Melissa Etheridge song!

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks, Turtle Woman, I wondered if there were any Melissa Etheridge fans reading this blog.

Most of the news coverage today is about the controversy over the mosque that may be built near Ground Zero. I'm thinking of promoting Christian-Islamic understanding with a post about Islamic gay Sufi mystics as seen in The Essential Gay Mystics by Andrew Harvey.

Trudie said...

Go for it, Kitt! Anything at all that will call attention to the indisputable fact that the true story of the 9/11 attacks has not been told by the mainstream media and that Islam is NOT our enemy will help. Our enemy, after all, is hatred, bigotry and falsehood, whether we are gay, female, or simply humans trying to learn about love.

CJ Barker said...

Wonderful 9-11 post Kitt. And I absolutely agree about the two ways of being a saint (gay or otherwise, actually): prayer and resistance (Jesus *and* Justice).

Mark's story has additional resonance for me because of something else we share- an over the top love for the University of California Golden Bears. In addition to his love for Rugby, Mark was a huge fan of all things Cal.

During one of the early 9-11 anniversaries (my memory says 2005, but that could be wrong) the local news here showed a brief video clip of his mom and friends @ the memorial in Pennsylvania, where they had left a small teddy bear all done out in blue and gold and Cal regalia. And in the video, they were shown doing a big Gooooooooo Bears! near the site in his honor.

I remember thinking at the time that if it had been someone who was a Notre Dame fan or an Alabama fan or a Texas fan, that that bit would probably have gotten played up as part of an "All American" kind of story about the goodness and value of sports, etc. But when the hero is gay, and the school is Berkeley, and what's being celebrated is how commitment to progressive values and tolerance is every bit as "All American," as being conservative, I guess it somehow ruins the narrative for people. Melissa's song very much reinforced those feelings for me. You can't change or erase this, dammit. We're part of this "us," too, whether you like it or not or want to admit it or not, and we *will* fight - for our country *and* for our right to be fairly and equally treated, here and around the world.

Kittredge Cherry said...

I’m glad that you all appreciate my post on 9/11. CJ, thanks for the memories and insights about 9/11, Mark Bingham, and the politics of sports! Trudie, your “go for it” resounds in my heart, and I have some good news:

I’ll be posting some fascinating material about peaceful dialogue between Muslims and Christians very soon -- on St. Francis Day, Oct. 4. I discovered that St. Francis tried to make with Muslims during the Crusades. I didn’t know that until this week when I started doing research about St. Francis and animals. Trudie’s offer to do pet portraits will be officially announced for St. Francis Day, too.

Turtle Woman said...

CJ-- always LOVE what you have to say. So thoughtful and insightful, and clever. Where do all these brilliant lesbians come from? Where do they all come la la.

Kittredge Cherry said...

I just added a link to a moving 9/11 memorial page with photos and bios of many more LGBT victims and heroes of Sept. 11:

Special thanks to Bill of the Bilgrimage blog for introducing me to the queer 9/11 memorial site.