What do we remember when we say that we will “never forget?”
I spent the 15 year anniversary of the September 11th attacks at the Oakland Pride Parade. I found my church (and then lost them) and then joined the denomination that baptized me as a baby (the Methodists). I did not want to be alone this 9/11.
While many Americans will never forget 9/11, most Americans did not know someone who died on 9/11. I knew Mark Bingham, one of the passengers on Flight 93. Mark was an incredible man who has become an American icon and symbol for the LGBT community.
I met Mark shortly after I moved to the Bay Area. Mark organized a weekly football game at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Five years ago, I wrote more about how we knew each other. He was one of the best athletes and one of the best leaders I have known. He was many things, and if you met him, you would not forget him. He was an openly gay, business man, national champion rugby playing … Republican (in San Francisco). Senator John McCain eulogized Mark on September 22, 2011.
After September 2001, I remained in contact with the football group for a couple months or a couple years… I don’t know why I drifted apart. Fifteen years later, I realize that I did not know how to deal with the loss. So many other people had lost more on 9/11, I did not feel that I had a right to grieve. Our whole group lost something that cannot be replaced by memorials. I disconnected from my large group of male friends and never replaced them.
Fifteen years is a long time, and sometimes I can see the changes in events like an Oakland Pride Parade. Fifteen years ago, marriage equality was barely a fight. When I moved to San Francisco, there were two places where I felt most safe – my church and our football field. This might sound strange coming from me, but fifteen years ago, even the Democratic Party did not share my political beliefs. I was the crazy guy.
Even though I have no photos of my people from St. John’s Episcopal Church, I did see them… and I photographed many other organizations that I knew before moving to the Bay Area. I saw Planned Parenthood (above) and the local Stonewall Democratic Club. In the mid-1990’s, I was one of the founding members of the Santa Barbara County Stonewall Democratic Club. I wouldn’t change my registration to work for the Congressional campaign, but I would for the club.
For September 11th, I photographed everything at f/11. Usually I would shoot with a shallow depth of field when I am in a crowd. Some photos still worked, but there are a few images that I did not include in the photo gallery, because of distractions.
Once I started remembering how I made it to the Bay Area from Santa Barbara, I remembered my standard for cool mayors. What would Harriet Miller do with a fire breathing snail?
Mayor Harriet Miller reminded me of my old high school principal Jeanne Contel. Contel was a hall of fame softball player before becoming a principal. Harriet was a State Superintendent of Public Schools in Montana before moving to Santa Barbara. When Harriet Miller ran a city council meeting, it was clear that she knew what she was doing. I will always remember how Harriet calmed me when I was the first speaker on new domestic partnership legislation. I had forgotten how to talk.
Note: this part has been edited on September 14.
There were times when Harriet was underestimated. Harriet Miller was often the smartest person in the room … and at the Santa Barbara Solstice Parade, she was the most fun. When Harriet was about 80, she wore outrageous costumes and carried a magic wand. In no way does this mean that she was not tough. She could have organized the passengers on Flight 93 too. I imagine that Oakland’s current mayor has been similarly underestimated, and that Mayor Schaaf seems to be on the same path as Harriet. (Let’s give her another 30 or 40 years and bring her back.)
After I published this post the first time yesterday, I found another article written on the one year anniversary of 9/11. I wanted to include The Guardian article by Mark’s friend Bryce Eberhart at the end of my post. Perhaps this year has been especially difficult because I lost my rugby shirt that I wore when playing football with Mark or because a long time friend died this year… or perhaps I have finally started to allow myself to “never forget.”