Queering 9/11: Gay Heroes Exist In Real Life, Why Not In The Movies?

As we have approached the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Queerty has profiled the people, issues and themes surrounding the tragedy that have made an indelible impact over the past decade, especially for the LGBT community. Gay action heroes before 9/11 didn’t have such great track records. World War II Nazi code-cracker Alan Turing got forced to undergo chemical castration by the very country he helped save. He grew breasts from the court-mandated hormone injections and eventually committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple. Oliver Sipple stopped an assassination attempt on President Gerald Ford and his subsequent outing by the media caused his family to disown him. He grew deeply depressed, ballooned to 300 pounds, and eventually died unhappily at age 47. Harvey Milk got shot twice in the head by his co-worker and the murderer avoided prison by blaming his state of mind on a Twinky. Seriously. But then came 9/11 and two unlikely gay heroes sprang to action and saved countless American lives. Rugby player Mark Bingham ganged up with other athletes on United Flight 93 to help wrestle control from the hijackers. Father Mychal Judge ran to the lobby of the World Trade Center North Tower to render aid and prayers to the rescuers, injured and dead immediately after the first plane hit. They both perished for their heroic actions, but they also helped change the nation’s view of gays from a community victimized by the religious right, HIV, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to a people strong, confident, and powerful enough to save lives and even change the world. So what about gay action heroes since 9/11? We don’t mean the superqueeroes who entertain us while doing great philanthropic work; we mean gay and lesbian people who have faced either serious risk or personal harm while trying to save lives or avert disaster in the world. Did the likes of Bingham and Judge help recast gays as new empowered heroes in the national spotlight or did our gay and lesbian heroes fall back out of the national eye only to be celebrated by the queer community and few others? The 2004 elections and the 2008 Prop 8 victory proved that gays still made worthwhile punching bags for the political aims of the Republican party, Catholics, and Mormons. But one could argue that Bush’s hateful re-election campaign and Prop 8 served as flashpoints, re-invigorating the gay community to organize more effectively nationwide and to support gay national figures while highlighting the worthwhile contributions of LGBT Americans. Take Barney Frank for instance. At the beginning of the Obama administration, Frank served as Chair of the House Financial Services Committee and “helped avert full-scale disaster” by brokering a number of key deals that saved thousands of Americans from foreclosing on their homes and ensured that home mortgage rates did not fall too quickly. He helped the country avoid a financial ruin that could have easily wrecked the world economy. On a different scale, Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook now leads the most valuable and influential technology company in the world. And while he hasn’t officially come out as gay, he did dramatically increase the company’s sales during the economic downturn, oversaw the company’s output of the revolutionary iPad, and will help raise the next generation of digital world communicators. It’s no exaggeration to call him “the most powerful gay man in the world” and his sexual identity will no doubt help change global perceptions about gays in business. On a more local political scale, Annise Parker survived a homophobic election campaign in Houston to become Texas’ first openly lesbian mayor and of the fourth largest city in the U.S.. Lieutenant Dan Choi, though definitely dramatic, has also faced arrest by U.S. authorities, federal charges for protesting DADT, and even Russian police brutality for marching alongside Moscow’s LGBTs. And don’t forget about Daniel Hernandez, the gay congressional college intern who saved Gabrielle Gifford’s life by pressing Safeway workers’ smocks against her head wound and holding her upright so she wouldn’t drown in her blood. When the press began calling him a hero, he modestly turned down the label saying it better applied to the first responders and public servants who help people live every day. But what about gay heroes in entertainment and the silver screen? With so many prominent gay political dynamos about, have Hollywood, comic books, and video games caught up with the trend?

Over the last ten years, video games have grown more inclusive by adding gay characters, the ability to mate with or marry someone of the same-sex, an earnest (though somewhat misguided) attempt to curb anti-gay slurs on online forums, games specifically targeted to gay audiences, and even gay and transgender video game reviewers to serve as the new face of modern gamers.

Comic books have also followed suit. Not only is the lesbian Batwoman about to get a new monthly series, but we’ve also seen the X-Men’s bossy bottom Northstar go from getting killed over and over again to finally getting a boyfriend. Likewise, the Young Avengers’ Hulkling and Wiccan started dating back in 2006 while Power Boy and Gravity Kid from the Legion of Superheroes and Apollo and Midnighter from The Authority have all become dynamic gay duos in story lines over the past decade.

Plus, gay comic book artists have also started creating specifically gay series including Mark Eden’s Spandex (which features a cross-dresser, a lesbian, a go-go boy, and two muscle twins as superheroes) as well as Terry Moore’s Strangers In Paradise, an entrancing lesbian epic that focuses on the love lives and years-long rivalries between lost friends and lethal enemies.

But video games and comic books have long been the refuge of social outcasts who relate better to imaginative avatars and battles of skill rather than the brute unfairness of the real world. So a better measure mainstream recognition of the gay hero would lie in counting the number of gay heroes on the big screen. After all, movies usually cast LGBTs as murderous villains (ie. Psycho or Cruising), witty sidekicks (My Best Friend’s Wedding), promiscuous sluts (Another Gay Sequel), or sacrificial lambs too noble to live in this cruel world (Boys Don’t Cry). Has 9/11 given gays a heroic Hollywood makeover?

Gay director Bryan Singer deliberately put homoerotic subtext
into his X-men movies, but he stopped short of featuring any actual gay characters in his comic book flicks. Come to think of it, most action heroes skew straight with nary a gun-toting lesbian or gay espionage agent in sight.

Apart from the 2004 film Alexander (which glossed over the great conquerer’s bisexuality), the only other mainstream film depictions of gay heroes that come to mind are Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in Milk and Cheyenne Jackson as Mark Bingham in the movie United 93, a film that didn’t even establish Bingham’s gay identity (the scene of him kissing his boyfriend at Newark Airport got scrapped due to bad weather). Arguably, the silver screen saw more frequent depictions of gay heroes long before September 11th rather than afterwards.

And while cable television has done a lot better about introducing complex gay characters to the small screen than movies—the glass-closted Anderson Cooper making one hell of a real-life television superhero as he risked his life in reporting from Egypt during the Spring uprisings and saved a small child from street violence while reporting in Haiti—TV too has a long way to go.

Perhaps the imminent repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will prove helpful in getting both straight Americans and ourselves to recognize gays and lesbians as heroes worthy of respect and greater representation in print, TV, and film. DADT’s repeal brings the heroics of Bingham and Judge full circle.

Neither Bingham nor Judge were very out during their lifetimes. As a new generation of Americans see gay and lesbian service members fighting for their country in uniform around the world without shame of their sexual identities, maybe more LGBT Americans will feel empowered to do their best and help change their world for the better with fear or shame of who they are.

Images via Michael Goldman, World Economic Forum, Wikimedia Commons, and istolethetv

Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...

We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock Queerty articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated


  • Hal Shipman

    For the most part, this is a nice article, but I have to wonder what you mean by “Bingham .. wasn’t very out in [his] lifetime.” I didn’t know Mark that well, I have to admit, but I never got any indication he was at all closeted. He played for the San Francisco Fog, so he was literally out there playing as a gay man.*

    I think you diminish his legacy by insinuating he was he was less than out and proud. When he died, he was in the process of founding another gay-oriented team on the East Coast (I don’t remember where).

    Read this email he sent to the Fog, on their site: http://www.sffog.org/about

    * I know know that the mission statement of the Fog is more generic inclusion – Hell, I ripped off a lot of that verbiage myself when founding the Chicago Dragons – but, really, they’re seen as “the gay team.” A damned good team at that. But being a founding club of IGRAB, the International Gay Rugby Association and Board, pretty clearly positions you, culturally.

  • guydads

    It’s all about knowing and learning your history. My list of gay Jewish heroes for the past 130 years: http://guydads.blogspot.com/2009/04/remembering-gay-jewish-history.html

  • christopher di spirito

    Contrary to popular mythology that holds Hollywood is “gay,” the industry really exists to make money, so for the most part, Hollywood tries to avoid anything they see as remotely controversial.

    I’m still stunned “Brokeback Mountain” got made. So many actors turned down the roles of Ennis and Jack out of fear their careers would be over. I’ve read even the few who wanted to do it were discouraged by their agents to say “no.”

  • Mike

    Given it’s not an American tragedy, but when they make a film about the Oslo bombing and Utoya Island massacre, they better prominently feature the lesbian couple Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen, who braved gunfire during trips to lift terrified kids from the water while the Oslo police waited for over an hour like helpless cowards before doing anything.

  • Jperon

    Bingham and Judge were heroes. Frank, not so much so. It is naive to claim, and lacks economic knowledge, that Frank’s “bailouts” saved thousands of jobs. In fact, many economists argue that Frank was a major player in causing the crisis and that his solutions are dragging the recession out longer and longer. When you have massive malinvestment, that is investments in the wrong areas because meddling politicians skewed the investments into areas they favored, as opposed to areas where the investments were actually needed, then the investments have to eventually flow from the wrong places to the right places. Frank and other politicians decided that some areas of the economy, mainly areas that they favored, ought to get more money. So they rigged the rules to favor those areas. But they were NOT the areas were the investments were most needed.

    The result was that they blew up a bubble where the value was set higher than it actually was, because it was artificially inflated. Barney Frank was a major bubble maker in DC. Now, his solution to the crisis created by politically created bubbles is to try and reinflate the bubble yet again. To do this they use taxes to take funds from the areas of the economy that are productive and pour them on areas that are unproductive, or simply are politically connected. Barney Frank is the epitome of crony capitalism and is no hero.

  • David

    Two words: Jack Harkness

  • scvjones

    Amen, David, Amen. I first thought of Jack, even though he’s “only” a TV character. I think he’s a game-changer. He’s a rockin’, sockin’ action hero, but when he’s looking for a little nookie at the end of a long day saving the world, he picks up a hot male bartender. Yay, Jack.

  • rf

    What? No mention of Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King Jr.s openly gay right hand man who taught MLK about non violent resistance and organized the March on Washington? Although he didn’t die an untimely or depressing death, in fact in the 70s and 80s he started working towards gay rights, he faced many of the same struggles as all out or outed gay people back in the day and he is considered largely forgotten from black civil rights history because he was gay. A movie was just made about this true American hero called Brother Outsider.

  • Adam

    Really good article.

  • Jim Hlavac

    We speak so much here of the “queering of 9/11” and the queering of this or that — well let me tell you all a real story of queering. I’m the uncle of a niece and nephew whose father, my brother-in-law, was murdered on 9/11; it took us days to find this out. He was FDNY Rescue 1, last heard from on the 31st Floor of Tower Two, about 15 minutes before it collapsed. Oh, he’s in all the documentaries which I can’t watch, for I choke up.

    Here is what I wrote about that: http://thedailymush.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/a-gay-mans-life-against-political-homosexuality/ — oh, these anti-gay folks have nothing on me. (and this site has my permission to run the link, if you want.)

    I used to work in Tower 2, too, right where the second plane hit, and I worked above that, where people were desperate and knew they were to die; I know those staircases, I know those buildings, in ways way beyond even a tourist trip to the top that any of you might have made may have given you — I can still see the view from the inside, it’s not just an image on TV from the outside for me; or a brief encounter. I can imagine the utter horror of the people in the Skylobby as they saw that plane coming at them!

    My Uncle Richard, my Godfather, in 1993 had to walk down 58 floors of Tower 1; he’s never been the same.

    I watched those buildings go up, for my father took me to them to watch the construction. I & Uncle Richard worked in them. We watched them come down. And I was there for my family. And this is the word I have been spreading today. No, I will no longer tolerate this “homosexuals are anti-family” crap. Let them run against “homosexuals” and leave us gay guys alone, let them tell me how I was not there for my family, the friggin’ bastards.

    I’m tired of it; I’m saddened by it; and I’m enraged by it. And I’m one of the few in this nation who has both the personal and the national perspective.

    Oh, I’m sorry, I’m verklempt, and pissed, and I like being neither! 🙁

  • Pete n SFO

    Well, I suppose I’m starting a rumor, if suggesting a person is gay can still be construed ‘rumor-worthy’…

    but remember recently the cop that bought a kid something at MacDonalds in San Diego (I think) just prior to being gunned down? I just kind of thought, hmm… It wouldn’t surprise me if his family would not be public about such a thing, especially as a former military person.

    He obviously was a very solid guy. It’s a shame when people are denied seeing the whole spectrum of a community.

  • the crustybastard

    Apple Computer Inc.’s logo — the bitten apple — is a subtle homage to Alan Turing.

    @Jim Hlavac:

    That was very powerful. Thanks for sharing.

  • jeff4justice

    Queering 9/11:
    Adorable Pets Remember 9/11… Was An Inside Job

  • Dan Avery

    @Hal Shipman: Hal, in the documentary With You, Mark Bingham’s mom talks about how he wasn’t totally out and how she had to decide whether to talk about him as a gay man after 9/11. It’s possible she wasn’t clear on his current openness, but that’s whats been reported.

  • Ewoks R Us

    If we’re talking about fictional characters I think we should look broader than just comics and video games. Like someone mentioned earlier, Captain Jack from Torchwood is a perfect example. And even more big screen is Albus Dumbledore. Harry Potter has millions of readers/viewers, and even if it really isn’t explicitly stated in the films and I’m pretty sure it’s not mentioned in the books either (it’s been awhile since I’ve read them so I could be wrong) he is one of the most popular characters in the series and people that love his character and look up to him most likely know he’s gay.

  • juewangas

    ===== { w w w }{better—–wholesaler }{ us } =======
    welcome to this website—-free ship ping accept pay pal—-
    we provide all kinds of high quality shoes and the other things
    if you are interested in it don’t hesitate to search our website
    hoping you can have a good shop ping experience
    — — (w w w ) ( cabikini ) ( c o m ) — —- –

Comments are closed.