Usually when I view photographs of grieving mothers, I have met the women through the Mother of an Angel Network. I have taken the photos, and I know about their children. On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I experienced something different. I saw photos taken by someone else of a mother grieving for someone I once knew.
Before Alice Hoagland's son Mark Bingham became a Flight 93 hero, he was an unforgettable man. He was a national champion rugby player at UC Berkeley. Mark was smart, talented, strong and kind. Many of Mark’s friends would have followed him into the Flight 93 cockpit believing that he could have flown the plane.
Mark has become an enduring American icon as well as a symbol for the LGBT community. Facing death, Mark acted patriotically and selflessly. He even called his mother before saving lives and giving his own life. His story will translate for generations. Jack Gruber’s photos of the Shanksville, Pennsylvania Flight 93 National Memorial revealed another story that translates across generations. Among the photos of current and former U.S. Presidents, Gruber shows a mother who still misses her child.
I knew Mark briefly and I miss him. The tribute video above illustrates how Mark inspired many people regardless of their background. I met him the year I moved to San Francisco. My friend Sheldon found a flag football team in Golden Gate Park. Even though the team was predominantly gay, we were welcomed. I loved playing with the guys, especially Mark. You can see me in the video (at 1:17) filmed at Delores Park. Mark and I both wore our hats backwards. Mark looks like an elite athlete. I look like someone learning how to wear hats. I was happy to be in their company.
After 9/11, football became less important. Eventually, I stopped playing. I also became quieter about LGBT issues. Since October 11 is National Coming Out Day, I figured it was time to remember and recommit about others who continue to inspire me.
I remember when I was not always quiet.
In 1994, I worked for the Walter Capps for Congress Campaign. Walter Capps was a popular UCSB professor who was seeking to replace Republican Congressman Mike Huffington. (At the time, Huffington was married to Arianna.) I believed that my position required I dress poorly and speak loudly. I encouraged the campaign to support progressive issues, such as gay marriage. I am probably embellishing my role. More likely, I coordinated lawn signs, buttons and T-shirts, at least lawn signs.
My yelling and Walter's support for gay rights were a coincidence. He would have supported equal rights regardless of a young loud staffer. The community appreciated Walter's steady support, especially considering that Walter's opponent had a much different view. Earlier in 1994, State Senator Andrea Seastrand linked the 1994 Northridge earthquake to the high number of California's feminists, child molesters and gay people. Many of us were yelling for someone like Walter.
One of my favorite memories from the 1994 campaign occurred at the Santa Barbara National Coming Out Day. While Walter was attending events in other parts of the district, Laura Capps, Walter's daughter, represented the campaign. I was nervous, until she started speaking. Laura was amazing. She was genuine and calm. Even though she was still in her young twenties, I imagined her running for office some day and not stopping at Congress like her mother and father.
I would have enjoyed seeing how Mark changed America, but even in death, Mark has not stopped helping our country. Arguably, he has influenced perceptions about masculinity and LGBT stereotypes more than any single American. He challenges us to be part of the larger community. The purpose of National Coming Out Day "is to promote a safe world for LGBT individuals to live truthfully and openly." Mark demonstrated that living truthfully and openly does not always happen in a safe world. Sometimes we must take risks.