Our War Too
Gay Heroes, and Gay Necessities
War changes everything. If there are lessons we can learn from history, this is one of them. And, above everything else, war changes the home front. It churns us all up, it scrambles social norms and makes what was once unthinkable possible. So the First World War was the critical moment for the breakthrough of the movement for women's equality, especially in Europe. The Second World War in America was perhaps the most racially integrating event in this county's history - it is no accident that only three years after it ended, racial segregation was abolished in the armed forces. And the Vietnam war also clearly turned this country's social order upside down, before it regained equilibrium.
And so this war could also do something similar. In fact, it already has. This is the first major war in which the open visible presence of gay and lesbian Americans cannot be denied. Already, the military has suspended its discharges of homosexual servicemembers, because in a war, we cannot afford the waste of resources such pointless persecution incurs. Openly gay soldiers will now fight for our freedom in a way never seen before. Now is not the time to argue for immediate changes in policy. We have a war to win. But it is a time to keep our eyes and ears open and see what these brave gay and lesbian warriors are all about. When and if this ends, we must remember them; and ensure that, when they return, they are not treated with contempt or ingratitude. The ban must not merely be suspended for the duration of this war. It must never be reinstated - and that must be a non-negotiable demand from all of us.
On the homefront, we already have heroes. These are not gay heroes. They are American heroes - who are also gay. That is the promise of this integrative moment. Let us remember Mark Bingham, a 6' 5" burly, ballsy rugby player, one of the men who, in all likelihood, wrestled a plane to the ground in Pennsylvania. He saved this country from what might have been a terrible assault on the capital. His power and courage and physical strength - his masculine virtue - did more than destroy the purpose of evil men. His valor also destroyed a stereotype in the process. Every jock in America needs to know that a brawny gay rugger player helped save this country from a calamity. No argument from anyone could be as eloquent.
Then there is Father Mychal Judge, an openly gay Catholic priest who served the men and women of New York's Fire Department. Revered by a macho subulture, fearless and strong, a man of faith and fervor, Father Mychal died in the flames of the World Trade Center doing what he has always done - tending to his flock in need. He is not a gay hero. He is an American hero who was also gay. And when this is over, let those in the Church who have done so much to create pain and hurt among good gay men and women who love their faith and serve their world, let them take stock and change their hearts. May they see that there is no contradiction between being gay and Catholic; in fact, may the Church hierarchy finally see that such people are now and always have been an integral pillar of faith and hope in the world. Father Mychal was a giant among them. We shall remember him as well.
For of all wars, this is surely one in which gay America can take a proud and central part. The men who have launched a war on this country see the freedom that gay people have here as one of the central reasons for their hatred. In their twisted perversion of Islam, these monsters believe that gay men and women deserve to be tortured and executed in hideous fashion. They murder and muzzle women; they despise and murder Jews; they demonize gays. We have rightly seen how Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have destroyed themselves by their hatred in this moment - and we can take solace that America has repudiated their poison. But let us also remember that the men who committed this atrocity make Falwell and Robertson look mild in comparison. They are the Religious Ultra-Right, and they have already murdered us. Given the chance, they would wipe gay people from the face of the earth. To respond to that threat by cautioning peace or surrender or equivocation is to appease men who would destroy every last vestige of gay America if they could. Gay Americans should not merely support this war as a matter of patriotism and pride; they should support it because the enemy sees us as one of their first targets for destruction. These maniacs despise our freedom; they loathe our diversity; they have contempt for our culture. There is no gray here. There is simply a choice: to cower and run in fear of these monsters or to stand up with every other segment of this country - of every race and creed and gender and sexual orientation - and defeat these messengers of hate in the hope of a brighter, integrated day.
September 21, 2001, PlanetOut.