Mark Bingham (right) visits members of the UK team, the Kings Cross Steelers (courtesy SF Fog)

Team Player

by Jim Provenzano

Bay Area Reporter

It is believed that team sports build character. Should that team be mostly gay, a special character is built from overcoming adversity.

By now you have hopefully heard the story of 31 year old Mark Bingham, one of several passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed on Tuesday, September 11, the day the World Trade Center and Pentagon were hit by suicide terrorists who used the planes as bombs.

It is believed from phone calls made by Bingham to his mother, and other brave passengers, after hearing of the other attacks, that their plane was headed for either the Capitol or the White House. It's believed that several people, probably all men, dared to rush the terrorists from the herd of passengers at the back of the plane, and prevent whatever else could have happened.

We believe. Our city believed when Bingham's partner Paul Holm, described him as "a huge labrador who embraced life," after being given a folded US flag at a packed ceremony at Bill Graham Auditorium Monday, Sept. 17.

As acts of violence against Arab Americans and their mosques increase across the US, our governor, mayor, senators, religious leaders and choirs offered statements of peace and justice.

At first the mainstream media stories vaguely revealed that Bingham was gay. It was painful to watch, having known of Bingham through stories about his rugby team, the SF Fog. Bingham was instrumental in forming the team, which has proven to be an energizing addition to the Bay Area's growing GLBT sports community.

Many friends and team members offered tributes to Bingham on their Web site.

Bingham, also a college rugby player, is quoted on the team site when they were accepted into the International Rugby Union:

"When I started playing rugby at the age of 16, I always thought that my interest in other guys would be an anathema -- completely repulsive to the guys on my team -- and to the people I was knocking the shit out of on the other team. I loved the game, but knew I would need to keep my sexuality a secret forever. I feared total rejection.

"As we worked and sweated and ran and talked together this year, I finally felt accepted as a gay man and a rugby player. My two irreconcilable worlds came together.

"Now we've been accepted into the union and the road is going to get harder. We need to work harder. We need to get better. We have the chance to be role models for other gay folks who wanted to play sports, but never felt good enough or strong enough. More importantly, we have the chance to show the other teams in the league that we are as good as they are.

"Gay men weren't always wallflowers waiting on the sideline. We have the opportunity to let these other athletes know that gay men were around all along -- on their little league teams, in their classes, being their friends."

Acquaintances and rugby players from around the world posted thoughts, including San Francisco teammates like Mike Grant.

"From the get go, Mark was an inspiration to me," Grant wrote. "I remember wanting so desperately to kick his butt on the rugby pitch after he so easily plowed me over down at Dolores Park. Nice first impression! When we went back for the social he and I hit it off and my need to 'kick his butt' ended immediately.

"Over the course of the next few months I got to know him pretty well and the name 'Bear Trap' fit him so very well. The changes over him in the last nine months were dramatic, I saw him getting more comfortable with himself and his surroundings. As for rugby, well there was no one more spirited, both on and off the field."


At a private memorial service Sunday, September 16, members of The Bingham Group, Mark's public relations firm, as well as members of his rugby team, the SF Fog, consoled and told stories alongside friends and family of Bingham.

The fully unknown story of how the plane went down is clouded by rumors that the military shot down the plane. They have staunchly denied it, and the stories of cell phone calls have received global attention, to the point of being accepted as fact, if not instant myth.

Senator Arlen Specter said he will nominate Bingham and the other passengers on the plane for the Freedom Medal. This is the same politician who voted against people like Mark from being able to marry their partners.

And while playing up families of Tom Burnett, Jr. and Jeremy Glick, other possible Bay Area heroes, the story of Mark Bingham has sometimes been either deleted, truncated, or closeted.

Dissenting Patriots
Gay Americans, banned from the military, harassed in police and fire forces, hidden in sports, forbidden in most cases from even donating blood, are left to question what level of patriotic opportunities are left at the debut of World War III. Even losing a longtime partner to a catastrophe leaves us outside, unable to claim a loved one in hospitals.

Is it any wonder then that we cling to the thought that a man like Mark Bingham, affable, industrious and yes, patriotic, may have saved our Congress, our White House, and hundreds or even thousands of lives with a stalwart tackle?

We can point a finger to a hero, but can we so quickly point a finger at an enemy? Filmmaker and social critic Michael Moore thinks not.

"When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, the CIA trained Osama Bin Laden and his buddies in how to commits acts of terrorism against the Soviet forces. It worked! The Soviets turned and ran. Bin Laden was grateful for what we taught him and thought it might be fun to use those same techniques against us. We abhor terrorism, unless we're the ones doing the terrorizing."

As the media prepares to cowtow to the military obfuscation and vitriol, as our assumed president savors his new role as global John Wayne while his daddy really runs the show, since he proved victorious in the test market version ten years ago, as the military industry reaps a billion-plus profit from the blood of New Yorkers and Pentagon workers, as innocent Arabs and Muslims prepare to be annihilated while their guilty fanatics cower in caves, as our own fanatics blame gays and the ACLU for the destruction, and as endless stories ignore the fault of the airlines and fret over petty commuter inconveniences, one story may be forgotten, the story of a gay man among heroes who said, "No."

Don't forget him. Don't dare forget him.


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