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LGBTQ community shared in the nation’s grief after 9/11 attacks

Among those killed was American Airlines co-pilot David Charlebois, an out gay man who was on Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.. .

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This week marks 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks (Washington Blade Graphic)

WASHINGTON – Many in the LGBTQ community throughout the country were expected to join their friends, neighbors, and family members this week in commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the New York World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and on the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., as well as a hijacking that ended with a crash in Shanksville, Pa.

Activists involved with local and national LGBTQ advocacy organizations have said they recall a coming together of LGBTQ people and their co-workers, neighbors, and family members to support one another during a time of unimaginable horror and grief.

A total of 2,996 people died in the 9/11 attacks, including 19 terrorists who hijacked four jetliners whose passengers included Americans and citizens of 78 countries, according to  history.com.

“The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities and those living with HIV/AIDS have worked diligently to overcome other forms of evil, whether it be bigotry or violence,” said A. Cornelius Baker, who at the time was executive director of D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Clinic, in a statement during the week of the 9/11 attacks.

“And we will stand side by side with our fellow Americans and our fellow citizens of the world to do everything we can to overcome this new threat to humanity,” Baker said

For many LGBTQ residents of New York and the D.C. area, the suffering over the loss of loved ones, including same-sex partners, was heightened a short time later when they learned they were initially ineligible for local and federal programs aimed at providing financial assistance to survivors of the victims of the 9/11 attacks because same-sex partners were not legally recognized.

At the urging of LGBTQ rights organizations, state, and local officials in New York and the D.C. area took steps to address the initial denial of financial support for surviving same-sex partners in programs under their control. Officials with a massive, multi-million-dollar federal aid program for 9/11 survivors, however, said they did not have legal authority to authorize payments to same-sex partners.

The officials, in the administration of President George W. Bush, said the best they could do would be to leave it up to local authorities to determine whether state probate laws would recognize a same-sex partner as a family member for eligibility in the federal aid program for 9/11 survivors, many of whom lived in states outside New York and the D.C. area.

Among those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks was American Airlines co-pilot David Charlebois, an out gay man and member of the National Gay Pilots Association, who was on American Airlines Flight 77, which the terrorists crashed into the Pentagon.

Also among the terrorists’ victims in the 9/11 attacks was public relations executive and rugby enthusiast Mark Bingham of San Francisco, who contacted his mother by cell phone shortly before the United Airlines jet he was taking from Newark, N.J. to San Francisco crashed into the countryside in western Pennsylvania.

Surviving family members of other passengers on that flight have said they too were called by their loved ones who told them some of the passengers were planning an attempt to somehow regain control of the jet from the terrorists.

Bingham’s mother, Alice Hoagland, who at the time was a United Airlines flight attendant, said she believed her son joined other passengers to prevent the terrorists from carrying out what authorities said was their plan to crash the jet into the U.S. Capitol or possibly the White House. She said her son’s reputation as a fighter for civic justice, along with a past episode where he fought off muggers, led her to believe he was among those who foiled the terrorists’ plans to fly the jet to Washington.

An investigation into the 9/11 attacks by a federal 9/11 commission later found that flight data recordings from the cockpit of United Airlines Flight 93, where Bingham was among 44 people aboard, showed that one of the four hijackers who took control of the jetliner shortly after its takeoff responded to an attempt by passengers to storm the cockpit by deliberately steering the plane into a downward direction at about 500 miles per hour, causing it to crash into an empty field near the town of Shanksville in western Pennsylvania at 10:10 a.m. All 44 people were killed.

“The fact that he was so close to the action, it is likely that he was able to get at these guys,” Hoagland told the Associated Press. “It gives me a great deal of comfort to know my son may have been able to avert the killing of many, many innocent people,” she said.

Hoagland became an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights and for the gay rugby teams that Mark Bingham helped to create in the years after her son’s death. She died on Dec. 22, 2020, of natural causes at the age of 71 at her home in Los Gatos, Calif., according to the Associated Press.  

Longtime LGBTQ rights advocate Jay Fisette, who at the time of the 9/11 attacks held the elected position of chair of the Arlington County Board, which serves as the county’s governing body, was among the Arlington officials that came to the Pentagon’s grounds to oversee efforts by Arlington firefighters to rescue Pentagon workers on the day of the attack. 

Fisette noted that the Pentagon is in Arlington County, and it was largely the county’s firefighters and emergency medical teams that put out the fire caused by the jetliner crash and provided medical assistance to survivors of the crash.

At an Oct. 7, 2001, 9/11 Day of Remembrance and Appreciation ceremony held in Arlington, Fisette expressed the views of many in the community in response to the 9/11 attacks.

“Tonight, our community gathers as a family,” he told the gathering. “We gather in sorrow and in disbelief, in remembrance and appreciation,” he said. “But we come here, too, with resolve and pride. We come together as Arlingtonians who love our county, as Americans who love our country,” he said.

“Our enemies may hurt our bodies and destroy our buildings, but they will never defeat our determination to make this a world of peace and a community in which our children grow up safe and secure,” Fisette told participants at the gathering.

Although some of the same-sex partners of those killed in the 9/11 attacks faced obstacles in obtaining financial support through the federal 9/11 relief program, Tom Hay, the surviving partner of 14 years of American Airlines pilot David Charlebois was treated with respect and honor by American Airlines officials and colleagues at Charlebois’ funeral mass at D.C.’s St. Matthews Cathedral.

More than a dozen uniformed company pilots and flight attendants attended the mass. In a news release issued in June of this year, American Airlines mentions Charlebois’ relationship with Hay and tells how Hay stood with Charlebois when Charlebois pushed for equal rights for LGBTQ people in the airline industry through his involvement with the National Gay Pilots Association.

“David was an early member of the NGPA,” the American Airlines statement says. “His contribution helped ensure ongoing progress toward fairness and solidarity,” it says. 

Activists in New York have said the 9/11 attacks drew attention to the need for legal protections for same-sex couples, including the need for legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Ros Levi, who in 2001 served as executive director of the New York LGBTQ advocacy group Empire State Pride Agenda, or ESPA, said his group became aware that same-sex partner survivors were being treated differently when New York City and private relief agencies like the Red Cross set up an emergency station on a pier along the Hudson River. The station was intended to help people find a family member missing and as yet unaccounted for in the World Trade Center carnage.

“Literally, [gay] people had to go there, turn around, go back home, and get some paperwork that spouses didn’t have to get to prove a relationship existed,” Levi told the Washington Blade in 2011 when the Blade reported on the 10-year anniversary events related to the 9/11 attacks. 

“You were nervous and scared and sad and then you had to go through that,” Levi said. “And worse, other people turned them away, even with the paperwork, saying sorry you’re not a family according to our guidelines.” 

Activists said New York City and New York State officials quickly recognized the inequities faced by same-sex partner survivors and took steps to change policies and laws to correct the situation. Among other things, activists were pleased when New York’s then GOP Gov. George Pataki issued an executive order in October 2001 that included surviving partners of gay and lesbian victims of the World Trade Center attacks in receiving full spousal benefits from the state’s Crime Victims Board.

The New York State Legislature soon took its own action by approving three separate bills that included same-sex partner survivors in various state benefits to be allocated to 9/11 survivors and their families. 

“The grief and loss were the same between heterosexual and same-sex couples, and a perception of this seemed to come through to much of the public,” said Jennifer Pizer, the then senior counsel for the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal.

In a separate development, Lambda Legal, ESPA, the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQ advocacy groups created the September 11 Gay & Lesbian Family Fund to provide some support to surviving same-sex partners who were ineligible for help from the federal relief fund program. 

“The Family Fund was established in December [2001] to help offset the discrimination gay and lesbian partners faced in obtaining benefits automatically afforded to surviving spouses, including Social Security and Workers Compensation survivor benefits and compensation under the Federal 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund,” ESPA said in a statement.

Among the other gay people known to have lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks was Father Mychal Judge, 68, a Franciscan priest who served as a Catholic chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Judge rushed to the scene of the World Trade Center to assist firefighters shortly before the Twin Towers collapsed. He was fatally struck by debris falling from the south tower while giving last rites to a fallen firefighter, the Catholic publication reported this week.

“He was a decent, wonderful human being,” said New York gay journalist Andy Humm, who had interviewed Judge for LGBT related stories prior to the 9/11 attacks. “When gays were kept out of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, he gave me an interview on the street telling me how terrible it was for us to be discriminated against and for the church to be doing it,” Humm told the Blade.

“I saw him at many demonstrations for gay and AIDS causes, showing up in his Franciscan monk’s cassock,” said Humm. “And he was equally beloved by the Fire Department, there at every major fire tragedy in the city, lending moral support to firefighters.”

New Ways Ministries, the Maryland based LGBTQ Catholic group that advocates for LGBTQ supportive policies within the church, has announced it is reaching out to other faith-based organizations, asking them to form an association to call on the Catholic Church to officially recognize Fr. Judge as a saint by canonizing him.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries’ executive director, has written a biography of Judge, which the group says will be published in March 2022 by Liturgical Press, one of the larger Catholic publishers.

A gay couple from California, Daniel Brandhorst and Ronald Gamboa, and their adopted son, David Brandhorst, were among those who died aboard the United Airlines flight that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The Los Angeles Times reported that Brandhorst, a lawyer and Gamboa, the manager of a Santa Monica Gap store, had adopted 3-year-old David when he was an infant.  

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U.S. Federal Courts

Indiana GSA sues school district that banned Pride flags over another ban

“The treatment aimed at PHGSA by administrators is unwarranted- these students must be treated in the same manner all others are treated”

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Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Indiana (Screenshot via WTHR NBC 13 News)

INDIANAPOLIS – A student led Gay-Straight Alliance at Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Indiana filed suit against their school and the South Madison Community Schools District for banning public announcements and adverts in-school for their club.

Last Spring officials in the Schools District, in this suburban community 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis, ordered faculty members at Pendleton Heights High School to remove Rainbow Pride flags from classrooms. The Schools District labeled the flags “political paraphernalia”  and instructed the Spanish, French and art teachers to get the flags out of their classrooms saying the flags violate their school district’s “political paraphernalia” policy.

In the suit filed last Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of the Pendleton Heights High GSA, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, the ACLU noted that the principal at Pendleton Heights has stated that the PHGSA cannot publicize its existence on school bulletin boards or on the school’s radio station, while other curricular and non-curricular clubs at the school are able to do so. 

“This group aims to create an environment that provides support to students, during a time that otherwise might be increasingly difficult for LGBTQ students,” said Kit Malone, advocacy strategist at ACLU of Indiana. “The differential treatment aimed at Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance by administrators is unwarranted and these students must be treated in the same manner that all other student groups are treated.” 

Pendleton Heights Principal Connie Rickert has the authority to decide what student groups are allowed to meet at the school and which ones are deemed to be “official.” Last Spring she deflected on the apparent anti-LGBTQ+ messaging the order to remove the flags sent telling one media outlet; ““Teachers are legally obligated to maintain viewpoint neutrality during their official duties to ensure all students can focus on learning and we can maintain educational activities and school operations,” she said. “Our counselors are trained to respond to any student who desires support.”

While she has allowed the GSA club to meet, her banning announcements and notifications for the GSA runs contrary to her statements last Spring that that her school prides itself on creating a welcoming environment for all. 

“Students at Pendleton Heights High School may participate in non-curricular clubs recognized by the school,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “By creating additional hurdles for Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance such as censoring the group’s promotions and prohibiting fundraising, the school is infringing on these students’ rights.” 

The South Madison Community Schools District has declined comment.

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Texas

Alarming numbers of Texas Trans kids in crisis over litany of anti-Trans bills

“Under the guise of protecting children- Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender & nonbinary youth”

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LGBTQ youth protest anti-Trans bills at the Texas Capitol building (Photo Credit: Equality Texas)

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project received nearly 4,000 crisis contacts from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas in 2021, with many directly stating that they are feeling stressed and considering suicide due to anti-trans laws being debated in their state.

This new data comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

The Texas State Senate passed its anti-trans sports ban SB3 this week, and the companion bill HB10 is now moving forward in the Texas House. 

Republican Texas Governor Abbott has prioritized SB 3 and called for a third consecutive special session of the legislature to consider this bill, which would ban transgender student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

“The Trevor Project’s crisis counselors have been hearing from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas who are scared and worried about anti-trans laws being debated in their state — and some have even expressed suicidal thoughts. This is a crisis. We urge Texas lawmakers to consider the weight of their words and actions — and to reject HB10/SB3,” said Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project.

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
  • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
  • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

“As a transgender young person in Texas, this new data from the Trevor Project is not surprising, but it’s nonetheless harrowing and alarming to see this representation of the detrimental impact Texas Lege is having on our community — especially our kids. Lawmakers and proponents of bills like SB3 and HB10 should be alarmed by these statistics, too,” Landon Richie a Trans youth activist and GenderCool Youth Leader from Houston told the Los Angeles Blade.

“Under the guise of protecting children and promoting fairness, Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender and nonbinary youth, denying them the dignity, respect, and childhoods that they deserve. It’s never an exaggeration to say that the passage — and merely debate — of these bills will cost lives,”  Richie added.

National mental health organizations like The Trevor Project and state LGBTQ equality groups including Equality Texas and Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) are raising concerns about the impact of such legislation on the mental health and wellbeing of transgender and nonbinary youth.

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. Further, Trevor released a new research brief earlier this month on LGBTQ youth participation in sports, which found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (nearly 66%) do not actively participate in sports — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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Utah

2nd largest school district in Utah bans Pride & BLM flags as ‘too political’

“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can”

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Davis School District Offices in Farmington Utah (Photo Credit: Davis School District)

FARMINGTON, Ut. – Administrators this week in the Davis School District, which is Utah’s 2nd largest school district with 72,987 students, banned LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, saying they are ‘politically charged.’

According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Davis Schools spokesperson Chris Williams told the paper; “No flags fly in our schools except for the flag of the United States of America.” Williams later walked that statement back adding a clarification that some of the Districts schools have flags from sports team or international countries which are considered “unrelated to politics.”

“What we’re doing is we’re following state law,” said Williams. “State law says that we have to have a classroom that’s politically neutral.”

Amanda Darrow, Director of Youth, Family, and Education at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, told multiple media outlets the school district is “politicizing the rainbow flag” which doesn’t belong on a political list.

“That flag for us is so much more,” said Darrow. “It is just telling us we’re included in the schools, we are being seen in the schools, and we belong in these schools.”

KUTV CBS2 News in Salt Lake City checked with the Utah State Board of Education. In an email, spokesman Mark Peterson said, “There is nothing in code that specifically defines a rainbow flag as a political statement so it would be up to district or charter school policies to make that determination.”

The local Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in saying in a statement;

Whether or not a school district has the legal ability to ban inclusive and supportive symbols from classrooms, it is bad policy for them to do so,” the advocacy organization said in a statement. “Utah schools have an obligation to ensure that all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identify, feel welcome inside a classroom. We urge school administrators and teachers to adopt policies that make all students feel safe and included.”

Williams insisted the policy is not meant to exclude anyone and that all students are loved and welcomed – they just want to keep politics out of school he told the Tribune and KUTV.

“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can,” said Williams.

A Utah based veteran freelance journalist, writer, editor, and food photographer weighed in on Twitter highlighting the negative impact of the Davis Schools decision on its LGBTQ youth.

Davis County School District bans LGTBQ and BLM flags as ‘too political’

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