Our Father

Queering 9/11: Father Mychal Judge, The Saint of Ground Zero

As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Queerty is profiling the people, issues and themes surrounding the tragedy that have made an indelible impact over the past decade, especially for the LGBT community.

“He was our spiritual leader but he was our buddy too,” is how one firefighter described Father Mychal Judge, the FDNY chaplain who raced back into the crumbling North Tower on September 11, 2001. When the South Tower collapsed, sending concrete and debris through the North Tower lobby at 100mph, he became the first recorded victim of the terrorist attacks. Judge’s faith, sacrifice and sense of duty came to embody the brave rescue workers, firemen, police and others who risked—and in some cases gave up—their lives on that fateful day.

Tending to his flock for 40 years, Judge was a compassionate and gregarious man who nonetheless kept certain aspects of his life private. But in the wake of 9/11, his personal life came under scrutiny:

He was a recovering alcoholic, 23 years sober (actor Malachy McCourt would bump into him at AA meetings).

And though he had never officially come out, Judge was gay.

“He and I often laughed about it, because we knew how difficult it would have been for the other firemen to accept it as easily as I had,” said former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen. “I just thought he was a phenomenal, warm, sincere man, and the fact that he was gay just had nothing to do with anything.”

By all accounts celibate after taking his priestly orders, Judge didn’t shy away from gay causes. He was involved with Dignity, a Catholic LGBT support group—inviting them to meet at a Franciscan church when Bishop O’Connor banned them from his diocese—and would tend to AIDS patients at a time when many would shun them as sinners. He was also close friends with outspoken gay activist Brendan Fay, who co-produced The Saint of 9/11, a documentary about Judge. He even quietly helped fund “St. Pats for All,” a St. Patrick’s Parade in Queens that welcomed gay groups.

There are those who would dismiss or deny Judge’s homosexuality—”[His sexuality] was an issue that was a distraction and an unfortunate one,” says producer/filmmaker Burt Kearns, an early champion for Judge’s canonization—but his effect on the gays and lesbians who knew him was profound. “Mike taught me how to come out as a young man,” Brian Carroll, a Franciscan friar and psychotherapist, told New York magazine. “And how to see sexuality as an important part of who I am. He took away the shame…  Mychal helped people embrace all the shame parts of themselves and turn them into something good.”

As “Father Mike” himself once said, “Is there so much love in the world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love?”


Image via Michael Goldman and Orping

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  • Mav

    How have I never heard of this guy before?

  • Joebarb

    thank you so much for putting this. Read his book it is seriously amazing, and I am not even catholic.

  • ewe

    The fact that straight people are straight has nothing to do with anything either. Just so Von Essen knows. I do not like when people say they don’t “mind” people are gay as long as they are quiet about it. It annoys me. Mychal Judge used to tell every fireman that left for a fire that they were completely absolved of all their sins so as to make them feel free of burden. Mychal Judge is to be celebrated as GAY.

  • Thomas Maguire

    Watch the AFA and the other hate groups tackle this.

  • Robert in NYC

    No. 4, I’m holding my breath that archbigot William Donohue, self appointed president of the Catholic “bigot” League won’t have a hissy fit over this one. If anything, he’ll deny Judge was gay.

  • ewe

    @Robert in NYC: You mean self appointed pope of the universe. Donohue looks like a devil. He is a devil. A small petty little devil.

  • BronxBorn

    @Mav: Probably because the gay ghetto of NYC (made up of mostly out-of-towners) hate the Irish-American natives so badly that they don’t want any recognition of the heroic Judge (who really WAS a heroic man. Actually used to visit AIDS patients in hospitals in the days when a lot of people were afraid to go near them and put them at ease by rubbing their feet to relax them).

  • xander

    The documentary about Fr Judge is well worth a viewing. Ian McKellan narrated it, and it’s something of a tearjerker— no matter one’s thoughts about the RC church.

  • OklahomaBreakdown

    @Mav: The documentary is on Netflix, and is pretty good.

  • JoeyO'H

    Father Judge was an awesome man. He embodied how human beings should act and conduct themselves in their lives and leave your mind open to all. He did good things in his life with courage and bravery.

  • JoeyO'H

    @After Hours:

    Thanks for posting the link to for the film. I believe I saw “the Saint of 911” before but would seeing it again.

  • JoeyO'H

    @After Hours:

    Thanks for posting the link to the film. I believe I saw “the Saint of 911” before but would seeing it again.

Comments are closed.