As the world remembers the terrorists attacks on America five years ago today, gay widows and widowers are hoping their partner’s suffering can help show US lawmakers the importance of equal representation and rights.
It is rumoured that of the 2,973 people who died, 22 gays and lesbians lost their partner on September 11 2001 when two hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Centre in New York followed by a crash at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
However, the gay community’s grief was heightened when it became unclear whether they would be entitled to inheritance rights and victim compensation as the surviving spouse.
Jennifer Pizer of gay legal group Lambda Legal told the Southern Voice: “It had such an impact because the loss was about death and relationships.
“The grief and loss was the same between heterosexual and same-sex couples, and a perception of this seemed to come through to much of the public.”
Gay and human rights groups stepped in at the time to provide financial compensation to surviving same sex partners, Joe Tarver, spokesperson for the Empire State Pride Agenda, told the paper, “It became clear to us that some were falling through the cracks of existing disaster relief programmes.”
The Red Cross also set up a new criteria for relief aid which included “domestic partners” and agreed that a joint bank account or joint lease was legitimate reasoning for assistance.
Eventually Congress approved the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, which was open to unmarried relatives or partners, but the final decision was left to individual states, meaning in places without civil union or gay marriage laws, without a will it would be harder for gay partners to be identified as a beneficiary of the person’s estate.
The most high profile gay victim of the attacks was Mark Bingham, who was portrayed in the recent United 93 film. He died on the plane which crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to overthrow the hijackers.
Ms Pizer said in some cases the families of victims have prevented same sex partners from compensation, although some have worked amicably.
“One of the key lessons for our community in this tragedy is not to put off preparing basic legal documents such as a will, It’s a very affirming and loving thing to do,” she added.
Meanwhile a film has been made about one of the gay victims of the attacks. Saint of 9/11, is the story of Father Mychal Judge.
It will screen in 12 cities from today. Father Judge was a gay man and fire department chaplain who became the international symbol of heroism, courage and sacrifice on 9/11 when a Reuters photograph depicted his body being removed from the World Trade Centre.
Saint of 9/11 is the story of a life’s journey interrupted. Director Glenn Holsten weaves interviews with friends, colleagues and congregants with narration by Sir Ian McKellen. The film had its world premiere at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.