One of the passengers of United Flight 93 believed to have been a part of the group who subdued the terrorists and crashed the plane in Pennsylvania was a man named Mark Bingham. Mr. Bingham was a 31-year-old public-relations executive and rugby enthusiast from San Francisco.
He also happened to be gay.
When the city of San Francisco decided to hold a memorial service to honor the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, Paul Holm, Mr. Bingham’s former partner, was invited to attend. Mr. Holm thought he was being invited to attend a memorial service. Instead, he and the rest of the crowd listened to what can only be described as an inflammatory speech by the city’s supervisor, Amos Brown.
“America, America,” Mr. Brown opined, “what did you do — either intentionally or unintentionally — in the world order, in Central America, in Africa where bombs are still blasting? ? America, what did you do two weeks ago when I stood at the world conference on racism, when you wouldn’t show up?”
The merits of Mr. Brown’s criticisms aside, it is clear that a memorial service for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks was hardly the place for such a polemic. Mr. Holm was so (rightfully) outraged by the speech that he stormed off the stage in anger. The following day he remarked to a reporter that he “thought this was a day of remembrance and not a political event.”
But a political event is exactly what it was, and that’s what makes Mr. Holm’s reaction to it all the more telling. I doubt Mr. Brown considered for a moment that Mr. Holm, a gay man attending a memorial service in honor of another gay man, would object to or disagree with his remarks. The reason?
Mr. Brown, like most Americans probably would, just assumed a gay man would be a liberal who would share his feelings regarding American foreign policy. Mr. Brown’s remarks were certainly inappropriate, but what made them even more inappropriate is the fact that Mark Bingham was — gasp — a Republican, a fact that has created something of a controversy in the gay community.
Somewhere along the line a gay person who voted Republican became, at least in liberal circles, an “oxymoron.” For a time, I think it was fitting, but the continued use of this characterization is no longer accurate.
To be sure, the left has historically been far more supportive of gay rights than the right. But the differences between the two parties on gay rights issues are slowly but surely being eroded, not least of all by our current president.
While Mr. Bush’s record on gay rights certainly isn’t great (as the Salvation Army debacle demonstrated), it also isn’t awful (as his hiring of an openly gay Wisconsinite to head the Office of National AIDS Policy demonstrated). Compared to other — supposedly “liberal” — administrations, I think Mr. Bush fares pretty well.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is, after all, a legacy of Bill Clinton. Neither party, in my opinion, goes far enough in its support, but this only makes it all the more ridiculous to cling to the “oxymoron” characterization.
Despite the ever-improving record of the Republican Party on issues of gay equality, many gay people remain downright intolerant when it comes to gay Republicans. It seems to me that this intolerance stems from many people’s knee-jerk association of “gay” with “liberal.”
But just because most gay people are liberal doesn’t mean we all have to be. Except on issues relating directly to gay rights, I fail to see how a person’s sexual orientation should define his political orientation.
Should gay people support gay marriage simply because they are gay? Yes.
But should gay people oppose the death penalty simply because they are gay? Should gay people support abortion rights simply because they are gay?
My answer is an unequivocal “no.” But this, oddly enough, is exactly the message being propagated by many gay leaders today: a “good fag,” as it were, is one who subscribes wholeheartedly to political liberalism. Implicit in this argument is that anyone who doesn’t is, if you will, a kind of gay Uncle Tom.
Castigating gay Republicans also strikes me as antithetical to the ideals of difference and diversity in which gay America places so much value. Not having a unified political voice on issues unrelated to gay rights doesn’t weaken us; it strengthens us by, in a sense, broadening our appeal.
Moreover, I think there is a very real danger in portraying gay America as a monolithic body (political or otherwise). To do so allows our detractors and supporters alike to lump us together into a nice neat package about which they think they can assume anything.
I honestly fail to see the fundamental difference between one person looking at me and assuming that, as a gay man, I must have AIDS, and another assuming that I must be a liberal.
So Mark Bingham was a gay Republican. So what? I find it disheartening, to say the least, that this should create any sort of ambivalence about him in the gay community. Some gay liberals have even questioned whether a gay conservative should be held up as a role model.
Allow this gay liberal to respond: Mr. Bingham is a hero. He is a hero who, to paraphrase his former partner, didn’t hesitate to sacrifice his own innocent life to save other innocent lives. Simply put, he is exactly the sort of gay man we should be holding up as a role model.
Chris McCall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in German and political science.