In between stuffing your face with hot dogs, thotting around the beach, and checking out hot guys draped in the flag, let’s not forget that this is a day to celebrate America, dammit!
We know most of the great heroes that are being talked about today are of the old-school, gray-haired variety, so we thought we’d give you a look at five great gay American heroes that have helped make our country what it is today.
Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt came out to his parents at 16, joined the Army at 29, and was killed in action in Afghanistan in early 2011. He was 31 years old. He is believed to be the first gay soldier killed after President Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law. After his death, his parents Jeff and Lori became staunch gay rights activists, protesting antigay marriage laws in their native Minnesota as well as speaking out for the rights of LGBT people in various news sources. Since marriage equality was passed in Minnesota in 2013, it looks like they got their wish, and one could only hope that the loss of this gay American hero helped to advance the rights of the citizens of his home state.
There are many reasons why Bayard Rustin was kind of the original gay badass. We’ve written about him fairly extensively, but you’d still be surprised how many people don’t know about this man and his accomplishments. Not only was he one of the chief organizers of the iconic 1963 March On Washington, but he did this all while living his life as an openly gay black man in the early 1960’s. So, yeah, he did that. If you’ve somehow never heard of Rustin, the amazing documentary Brother Outsider is a great place to start. It’s available on Netflix streaming, so if you need something to watch after you’ve poured yourself in from all the festivities, give it a watch. You know, because we told you so.
Who is Mark Takano? Well, he’s the first openly gay person of color elected to U.S. Congress and the first openly gay person from California in Congress, that’s who. We had the pleasure of meeting Congressman Takano while sitting on a panel in Washington, D.C., and we were surprised that we hadn’t heard the name a bit more often. Takano focused his energy on fighting educational inequality before being elected to Congress, and now represents the 41st District of California. He’s also a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. Could he be our first gay President? Who can say? We’ll definitely be watching to see how his career progresses.
The hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11th, 2001 might have succeeded at ending even more lives if it weren’t for the heroics of openly gay PR exec Mark Bingham and other passengers who stormed the cockpit in order to divert it from its intended target, Washington, D.C. All aboard the plane were killed when the hijackers crashed it in rural Pennsylvania. Bingham was an avid rugby player in San Francisco, and was a cofounder of Gotham Knights, a gay-inclusive rugby league. The Bingham Cup, a gay rugby union tournament created in his memory, will have its 2014 tournament in Australia this August.
Of course, you’ve heard the name before. You most likely saw the movie. But no list of gay American heroes would be complete without mentioning one of the biggest, who went by the name of Harvey Milk. Yes, he was the first openly gay person elected to public office in California. Yes, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom. Of course he did all of these things, but why Harvey Milk is still spoken about today and why he is truly a gay American hero is because his vision for the future of gays reached far beyond his time, and that vision is still being realized today. From the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which provides training to LGBT candidates who seek to run for political office to the Harvey Milk High School, a NYC school designed specifically for LGBT students, his legacy continues to create change for gays decades after his death.