Remebering Mark Bingham and 9/11
September 11th, 2009 (11:20 am)
"May the gods guide his soul to the land of his Ancestors and welcome him into your loving arms"
From an article that appeared on the website www.planetout.com:
"Before Sept. 11, 2001, Alice Hoglan was a single mom in Northern California working as a flight attendant for United Airlines. On Sept. 11, her gay son, Mark Bingham, became a national hero, and it changed her life.
Bingham was the rugby player who died while helping thwart hijackers on United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. Experts believe the terrorists would have crashed the plane into a major government building in Washington, D.C., but Bingham and fellow passengers fought back, causing the plane to crash into a deserted Pennsylvania field.
In this exclusive interview, held days before the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Hoglan talks about her son, the Flight 93 national memorial and a new Discovery Channel special, "The Flight that Fought Back," which airs on Sunday evening, Sept. 11."
First, I have to ask: Are you still working as a flight attendant?
I am a retired flight attendant, as of June 2003.
I know people who were on a flight to Sydney that you were working on during the 2002 Gay Games, and they were delighted to see you. Was it a coincidence that you were working an Australian flight at that time, or did you plan it that way?
It was a coincidence. It was one of those delightful synchronicities. I got on board working it as a flight attendant, and I realized that, hey, all these folks are going to the Gay Games. And it turned into a real party; it was just a lot of fun.
While your son is a hero, many in the gay community view your response to the tragedy, and your openness about your son's identity, as heroic in a different way. You've become an important figure to many in the LGBT community.
That is very nice for you to say that. I'm certainly not heroic, but I am very supportive. I loved Mark; I loved everything about him. I loved the fact that he was honest with me and came out to me at age 21 -- that was a scary and brave thing to do. He sent me on a real journey on that day: I turned from being, I guess you might say, an unconscious heterosexual white woman to being a more aware mother of a gay man.
I know that in Mark's lifetime he dreaded the fact that there were relatively few role models for gay people to look to, and for that reason alone I was happy to tell the world that Mark Bingham was a gay man in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. He was able to stand up and fight and bring to bear all the competitive spirit and rugby power that he learned since he was a sophomore in high school and stand there with other proud Americans, gay and straight, and make a difference.
Did you ever feel that your son was misrepresented in the press after 9/11, or that his identity as a gay man was swept under the rug?
Well, I sure hope not. No, I don't think so. I think we have a long way to go to make sure that gay people are well represented.
Have you become more politically involved after 9/11?
I would say yes, in the short run and in the long run. There are several thorns in my side now, and I can't even tell you which is most important.
Pick one or two.
I will speak on every occasion that I'm allowed to on the importance of allowing people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender to enjoy the full flower of American freedom. I think that we need to realize that God made us the way we are; we did not choose our sexual orientation. It is a mandate for the American public to reach out and embrace the diversity that gay people afford them. So LGBT issues are one thing.
Another thing, as a flight attendant for United and as a mother whose son was murdered on 9/11, I feel strongly that we still have a long way to go in this nation to improve aviation security. The airlines share the blame along with the government, and there's much to do -- to secure cargo holds, for example, to make sure that knives and box-cutters are not allowed back on the airplane, to make sure that crews, flight attendants and pilots, are trained to deal with armed attackers on board the flight. We need to make sure that our screening is top notch. We need to make sure that incoming flights that are carrying people to our shores are properly screened. ... So, you can see I've become quite a soapbox advocate!
I understand that the final design of the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., was unveiled yesterday in Washington. Have you seen the design, and were you involved at all in the planning?
I have not seen the design. I saw a good many of them; there were just an astounding number of designs that were considered by the joint committee involving Flight 93 family members and the national parks. They've done a beautiful job, and I have a lot of confidence in their ability to select the best one.
I assume you've seen "The Flight that Fought Back." What did you think of the special?
I'm really happy with the special, which is going to air on Sunday night. because it is a very graphic and true-to-life representation of what happened on board as best we know. The Discovery Channel did a marvelous job of researching the historic record and staying as faithful as they could to that, and I'm grateful. The facts speak for themselves: A handful of guys got up and ran to the cockpit and did the very best they could to take control back of a pitching airplane that -- had it not been for those guys -- would have plowed into the Capitol building and killed people in our government.
There have been several memorials for your son, including a recurring rugby tournament and the renaming of a San Francisco gym. Is there one that stands out for you in a special way?
Well, believe it or not, I remember the Gay Games very fondly, and the recognition that was given to him there. I am just so touched by the effort that the gay community has made to remember and keep alive the memory of Mark Bingham, as you keep alive the issues surrounding his death. Boy, it's hard to say!
As time takes you further away from the 9/11 attacks, is there a particularly surprising detail or quote or characteristic about your son that has emerged as particularly significant?
Boy, you really touched a nerve. It was brought up at the Bingham Cup 2004. The Bingham Cup is a biannual event, and it was in London in 2004. It was impressed on me [there] that, while Mark was a competitor in rugby -- whether he was playing for Cal or for the Olympic Club or for San Francisco Fog [the chartered gay rugby team in San Francisco] -- he would run alongside a teammate who had the ball and offer support, and what he would say was, "With you, I'm with you." And Mark used to say that to us, too.
In some ways, that reflects what he did on 9/11 as well. He was an important team member, and yet he was just part of the team. That's the way I remember Mark. He was a real solid guy, anxious to make sure that people reached out and touched and loved one another. And as far as I'm concerned, he's still with you and he's with me.