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    Honoring LGBTQ Heroes of 9/11: Father Mychal Judge and Mark Bingham

    Father Mychal Judge, FDNY Chaplain and ‘Saint of 9-11’
    Born on May 11, 1933; Died September 11, 2001

    By Brendan Fay–

    (Editor’s Note: To mark the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, the San Francisco Bay Times is publishing a piece by Brendan Fay in memory of Father Mychal Judge. The remembrance first ran in the Bay Times in 2013.)

    Mychal Judge had a heart as big as New York. There was room for all. To each he met from the streets of New York to the White House he was a man of tender compassion. From Flight 800 to the AIDS crisis, Mychal was a source of hope and healing in the midst of personal and national pain and tragedy.

    The world came to know Mychal Judge from his death at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. That was a day of profound darkness for the human family—a day of terror and fear, injustice and death. Yet out of the WTC pit of death and darkness a light beamed in the iconic image of Mychal Judge being carried by firefighters and rescuers.  

    Identified as victim 0001, FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge become a face of courage, sacrifice, profound hope, and of compassion. On September 11, he embodied the prayer of his father St Francis: “Where there is sadness let me sow hope, where there is hatred let me sow love … where there is darkness only light.” On 9/11, as most New Yorkers fled the World Trade Center, Mychal rushed towards the site with other first responders; the brave men and women of the FDNY, EMS, NYPD. This was his calling as a Franciscan FDNY Chaplain, to go to the place of human tragedy, pain, suffering, and anguish and be present with comfort and healing.  

    Father Mike was well known in New York for his ministry with the homeless, recovering alcoholics, people with AIDS, immigrants, the LGBT community, and others marginalized by society. He was a compassionate witness for peace and non-violence in Belfast and in Jerusalem. For the Irish, he was one of their own. To the men and women of the New York City Fire Department, he was “Father Mike,” a familiar face in the firehouses, city diners, and in burn units of city hospitals. He led the funerals for firefighters, and consoled and comforted widows and children.

    He was a familiar face in New York AA meetings and counseled many like himself struggling with addictions. For the Catholic LGBT community, he was family as well as priest. We called on him during the darkness of the AIDS crisis. When exiled and excluded by the institutional Church, he provided compassion and sacraments in our living rooms and community centers.

    I met Mychal Judge as he was one of the priests who presided at the weekly Mass for Dignity NY, a group for LGBT Catholics at St Francis Xavier Church in Greenwich Village where we met each week until expelled by order of Cardinal O’ Connor in 1987. This was the middle of the AIDS crisis. I reached out to Mychal when asked for help by a family needing a priest to lead funeral prayers for two brothers who died from AIDS. As with many others in his life, we became fast friends.

    Being gay … it was understood between us. He wasn’t “out” out—Mychal was selectively open about being gay—with friars and friends he could trust and people whom he could help by coming out, such as parents struggling with their child in a world of ignorance and prejudice. In his diary he wrote, “I thought of my gay self and how the people I meet never get to know me fully.”

    He would become a huge supporter of working for change. He wrote the checks to GMHC, to PFLAG, to St. Pats for All, and then he would show up in his Franciscan habit. He was delighted with the founding of FireFlag/EMS by Eugene Walsh and first president Thomas Ryan, both inspiring pioneers in the FDNY.

    While proud of being Irish and a much beloved Catholic priest, he was disheartened by anti-gay prejudice in the church and Irish community, which he called “high levels of madness.” A telephone call between Mychal Judge and me would range [in subject] from Lourdes, Ireland, parade, the gift of sobriety, or the latest book by his favorite writers Father Richard Rohr or the gay pioneer priest John McNeill, who was his spiritual director for a while. Calls often ended in a brief prayer or laughter.

    I was asked last year [2012] for the feast of the “Communion of Saints” to join the All Saints Roman Catholic parish in Syracuse as they unveiled a statue in Mychal’s memory. It was modeled on that iconic image of 9/11, of Mychal being carried out after the World Trade Center collapse. All that is good and tender about the human heart is etched on the faces of the first responders as they carry the body of Mychal Judge and lay him down near the corner of Church and Vesey, streets he walked and loved so much.

    Mychal loved New York and often walked the Brooklyn Bridge. As a son of Irish immigrants, he never forgot and would be an advocate for immigrants until the day he died. He was proud of this land and its stories of immigrants.

    I have been gathering his letters and notes for a collection. He was great letter writer. He would stay up until all hours of the night writing notes and cards—to say thank you, to send a word of comfort, of encouragement, to celebrate a new job, the arrival of a new baby, the new home, a newfound love. He celebrated weddings and baptisms, and [attended] funerals as well as the major moment of new citizenship. For baptisms, he would write a note of welcome to babies. He [wrote] to couples wedding, to families and widows after a funeral … and to someone in prison. People remember his love, his big heartedness and his sense of humor if you got too serious. That was our Mychal Judge!

    On each May 11, his birthday, friends pause to give thanks for the gift of Father Mychal Judge, and on each 9/11 anniversary, Mychal even in his death sends us a message: from the midst of the hell of war and violence, Father Mike points us to another possible path as human beings, and, like him, to choose the path of compassion and tenderness.

    Brendan Fay is a filmmaker and activist. He co-produced the films “Saint of 9-11″ and “Remembering Mychal.” He has spoken at colleges and communities about his friendship with the late Father Mychal Judge.

    Remembering Mark Bingham, Hero of 9/11

    By Don Price–

    (Editor’s Note: Mark Bingham was one of several openly LGBTQ heroes of 9/11. A public relations executive who founded his own company, the Bingham Group, he played for the gay-inclusive rugby union team the San Francisco Fog RFC. At the time of 9/11 in 2001, he had founded a satellite office of his firm in New York City and was spending more days on the East Coast, where he planned to form a rugby team called the Gotham Knights.

    After Bingham’s death, his mother Alice Hoagland (1949–2020) remained an avid supporter of gay rugby and LGBTQ sports teams around the world. She often spoke with pride about her hero son, who was just 31 when he died doing all that he could to save others.)

    Born in Los Gatos and educated at the University of California, Berkeley, San Francisco resident Mark Bingham became a true hero on September 11, 2001. During the worst terrorist attack in American history, he and other passengers on United Flight 93, bound for SFO, subdued their hijackers to keep them from smashing the plane into the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., where it was likely bound.

    Although all were lost when the plane crashed in Pennsylvania instead, Bingham and others onboard saved hundreds, possibly thousands, of lives by performing an act of bravery that will endure across generations. 

    Don Price is the husband of historian and “San Francisco Bay Times” columnist Dr. Bill Lipsky.

    Published on September 9, 2021