We invited OutUK's US Correspondent Rex Wockner to reflect on how life has
changed for him and both the gay and wider community since the terrorist attacks in America
killed thousands of people including many British citizens on September 11th 2001.
It's been a year since my now-deceased Dad woke me up with a phone call
and said something like, "The World Trade Center just fell down."
I thought he was delusional but woke up my other half and turned on the TV anyhow.
Like you, we spent the rest of the day glued to the tube. I had my laptop on the
bed with me, using e-mail and Internet telephony to communicate with gay leaders and
eyewitnesses in New York City.
I wrote a long story on gay reaction and gay angles. I was the first
journalist to report that Fr. Mychal Judge was gay and some of my
editors subjected me to more than the usual amount of fact-checking that
week. Of course, this now has been reported by AP, The New York Times,
and everyone else.
I went back to the New York and Washington interviewees from my original
reports and, not without difficulty, coaxed some of them into sharing
their thoughts and feelings one year later.
Veteran NYC gay activist and journalist Andy Humm: "It took me five
months to fly after September 11, mainly because of the new hassles at
airports, but also because no trip seemed important enough to risk it.
My room-mate, who witnessed the Twin Towers falling from just across the
Hudson, took up smoking, creating new conflicts on the home front.
| I was
ashamed to have any fun for weeks. ... As a freelancer, there was
nothing to write about but 9/11 for a while -- including gay-related
stories about Rev. Mychal Judge and the plight of gay partner survivors.
The catastrophe gave more people an appreciation for our humanity. ...
Any horrible thing seems possible in New York now, including nuclear
Activist and journalist Andy Humm.
Photo by Rex Wockner.
I don't think about it often, but every once in a while
I'll take in a particularly bustling street scene and freeze-frame it,
imagining this is what we were all doing when it ended."|
Village Voice columnist Michael Musto: "One of the upshots of the 9/11
tragedy, interestingly enough, is that certain gay issues were moved
closer to centre stage. The world found out that gay heroism helped
divert the plane in Pennsylvania; Father Mychal Judge was discussed as a
gay spiritual leader; and the plight of gay lovers of 9/11 victims was
reported on, as the bereaved tried to get remuneration and recognition.
A year ago, I wrote about some of these issues (and how gay people
weren't allowed to give blood), and I got nasty emails saying: 'Now's
not the time to quibble about gay rights. Now is when we have to
concentrate on fighting "the war."' I argued back that now more than
ever was when we had to uphold our democracy and make it clear why
we're different from the tyrannies we're fighting against. By now,
there's been way more discussion and maybe even more awakening about the
gay role in America. Perhaps united in horror, our society's been able
to move forward a little."
Andres Duque of NYC's Latino Commission on AIDS: "Life goes on in NYC
and sometimes it seems as if nothing had happened.
Ground Zero has
become a tourist destination and 9/11 has become '9/11: The Theme Park.'
... So many people in New York seem so ambivalent about observing the
anniversary. Gone is the spontaneous appearance of thousands of leaflets
bearing the images of those feared dead that united all of us in
mourning. Gone are the American flags that bloomed from all quarters in
an unprecedented show of true patriotism and sorrow, regardless of
ethnicity and nationality. Thankfully, someone has captured all these
emotions in true remembrance of how most New Yorkers feel about that
day. Bruce Springsteen's The Rising captures exactly how I have felt
since then and I will probably be observing 9/11 by listening to that
record all day long."||
Andres Duque of the Latino Commission on AIDS.
Network news producer Barbara Raab: "Rather than the 'closure' that's
often attained by marking the one-year anniversary of a major loss, I
fear that all the commemorations will simply reopen the wounds that have
barely healed, and that the city I live in and love is going to have a
collective breakdown. ... The other thing I am quite aware of a year
later is that the 'attack on America' doesn't resonate so much anymore
across America the way it does here [where] there are daily reminders of
it. People still refer to it, talk about it, mention big and little
things that have changed because of it. Certain subways still don't run
the way they did before 9/11; firehouses still display pictures of the
men they lost; my newspaper comes with special inserts encouraging New
Yorkers to 'return to downtown.' When the subway stops in a tunnel for
no apparent reason, it's as if there's a thought balloon over everybody
in my car, with the words, 'Uh oh, what's wrong?' ... Loud noises are
more scary, planes roaring overhead are more scary, you just kind of
know that everybody is on edge in a way we weren't before. ... I keep
telling myself that we were just as unsafe on September 10 of last year,
we just didn't know it -- but that only goes so far."
POZ magazine founder Sean Strub: "My response is on two tracks, one
personal and driven by grief and loss and the other political and driven
by a sense of sadness that so much of the community leadership jumped on
the jingoistic, nationalist bandwagon, trying to show we were more
patriotic than everyone else. I just feel like we could have done
something better, although I am not sure what that would have been."
Journalist and former ACT UP and AmFAR media man Jay Blotcher: "I had my
darkest visions of American life confirmed by what I saw on September
11, standing in the middle of Sixth Avenue in the Village with hundreds
of people as the second tower went down. In the weeks after that, many
of my friendships were sorely tested as I spoke out ... against the
knee-jerk 'bomb 'em all' jingoism and beseeched people to realize that
Bush Sr. and Jr. had laid the foundation for the attacks with their
ruinous foreign policy. In the months that followed, Bush has managed to
sidestep the tough questions by imposing a 'War on Terrorism' that made
all naysayers immediately suspect as traitors. Some members of the media
have questioned this madness, but I fear that the upcoming anniversary
of the attacks will again facilitate an American lockstep mentality
supporting renewed bombings, killings and detainments in the name of
D.C. activist and journalist John Aravosis: "It's easy to be a
civil-rights advocate when your goals don't threaten your nation's
survival. But on September 11, a lot of the civil-rights truisms we
embraced -- opposition to racial profiling, unfettered support for free
speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion -- suddenly
seemed a bit murkier. Before September 11, we always believed that
protecting the rights of minorities would strengthen America, not weaken
it. But that belief flourished in a world in which America's survival
was a given. ... Our generation never had to consider whether the
enforcement of those rights might stand in the way of our nation's
continued existence. Now we do. ... Will the fear of terrorism water
down some of our stridency on particular issues like privacy and racial
profiling? I think it already has. The question is, 'Should it?' On
September 10, I would have said, 'Of course not.' Today, I honestly
don't know. That re-evaluation of beliefs we long held true, but hardly
ever questioned, is the real legacy of September 11."
Author Michelangelo Signorile: "I have a lot of mixed emotions a year
later. My boyfriend David and I are closer to my family, and the whole
family is more tight-knit.
My father and my brothers were lucky; they weathered the damage to their restaurants
and put their business back together. But they lost so many friends and associates. As far as I'm
concerned, bin Laden and the terrorists should burn in hell forever. But
I'm also increasingly pissed off with those who have taken advantage of
this tragedy. Front and centre in that regard is the Bush administration, which
has used the response to the attacks -- and is now hastily leading us into a
dangerous war with Iraq, though it's not been proven that Saddam had anything to
do with this -- to deflect from the White House's horrendous economic policies and from
the President's and Vice-President's past corporate sleaze. True 9/11
patriots won't let them get away with it."||
Photo by Rex Wockner.
My buddy Ralph Buchalter who works at the American Stock Exchange and
watched the second plane hit: "Some of the more lasting memories are of
the days of autumn and winter when I had to walk past the Trade Center
site to get to work every day, before the tourists came, while the pile
was still smoking and cranes were still trying to untangle the metal.
... Every morning as the subway doors opened at Broadway-Nassau on the A
line, each of us commuters was greeted with that horrible stench of
burning metal that I will never forget. When a haughty aunt of mine in
Memphis asked me at Christmastime if I had volunteered to pass out water
bottles at Ground Zero, I wanted to reply that my volunteer effort was
marked by the black snot I blew out of my nose every evening just
because I had gone back to work down there.
"As a gay man in New York," Ralph says, "what I have experienced in the
last year is a lessening of the relative differences between gay and
straight as we struggle with the differences the attacks have focused on
West and non-West. The American flags that adorn literally every gay bar
in town seem to mark this event as one that gay people were literally
and openly inside of in a way that hadn't happened before. Because of
the 'gay movement,' however you define that from the last 25 years and
however disparagingly it's analyzed today, there were openly gay office
and civic workers at the Trade Center, with friends and partners on the
outside, and their disappearance that morning put us squarely inside the
My thoughts: I didn't fly for 10 weeks after 9/11. Then my Dad died
and I was on a plane to the cornfields of Illinois a few hours later.
That got me over that hump. I've always hated flying and still do. When
airplanes go boom and fall out of the sky, there are never any
My friend Clint and I and the people he works with have been fighting
off some weird virus the past couple of weeks that has some unusual
symptoms. Before my doctor assured me that it is a "thing" that is going
around and that her entire family had caught it, Clint and I wondered
out loud, "Maybe terrorists put something in San Diego's water." The
fact that we were even 10 percent serious is a very post-9/11 reality.
I've been overseas three times since 9/11 and I think people were being
a little nicer to Americans. That won't last but it was nice to be hated
less than usual due to the accident of my country of birth. Many people
in the rest of the world have a love/hate, fascination/repulsion
relationship with America which, after 9/11, seemed to tip a tad more
toward the love side for a while.
I am one of those people who expects more shoes to drop. Water could be
poisoned, bridges could be blown up, radiation could get released, and
there are a hundred other horrifying scenarios.
If anything, a year later, I think I detect a complacency among the
public in general and among public officials. I vote Democratic except
when I vote to the left of the Democrats -- for the Green Party, the
Peace and Freedom Party, etc. I ain't no conservative. But I feel the
government has not stopped terrorists from entering and freely moving
about the United States. If we want to prevent more 9/11s, Big Brother must
take more interest in who is here, where they came from, what their background
is, and what they're up to. This sucks. And it is necessary.
To commemorate this anniversary we present items from the OutUK Outback Archive which reflect the events of 9/11 and its aftermath.
OutUK sponsors the The Bingham Cup
Results and pictures from the 2004 Bingham Cup
Attack on America - The story of 9/11
The book that tells of the heroism and sacrifice of Mark Bingham
Eyewitness Reports From New York and Washington
The Personal Story of Flight 93 Hero Mark Bingham