Mormon mother of a 9/11 hero works for marriage equality

i-380aa4dbb04197c49df0ca886030bffe-HoaglandBingham.jpgThis story is too good not to re-run (image h/t The Advocate). Sept. 11 loss leads mother to fight for gay rights:

Seven years on, she still wakes up with a shock in the night, startled to remember that her only son is dead.

Inside the bungalow in the mountains above Los Gatos where Alice Hoagland lives, the house with the "No on Proposition 8" sign and the American flag outside, glass bowls from "Good Morning America" and USA Rugby memorialize one of the heroes of 9/11 — Hoagland's son, Mark Bingham. There are DVDs of "United 93," the movie about the hijacked flight that Bingham helped stop from completing its murderous mission.

Hoagland isn't the same woman she was before Sept. 11. Nor is she the same woman, baptized a Mormon, she was before Mark came out to her as gay in 1991.

"In so many ways," she said, "Mark really taught me how to live my life."

At 59, Hoagland has a broad, open face, the kind of face you might expect from someone who grew up in Iowa and Ohio, and the generosity to thank a reporter for showing up to hear her story.

Mark came out to her in 1991, when he was 21. They were driving back to the UC Berkeley campus, where Bingham was a student, when Mark told her: "Mom, there's something I promised myself I would tell you before the sun went down today."

The sun was setting. The words tumbled out of Mark, including one phrase that obliterated all the others: "I'm gay."

"In that one sentence, he blew away all my preconceptions of what gay people were all about," Hoagland said. "I cried for a while, but I grew up."

In the wake of 9/11, Hoagland has dedicated her life to five causes.

"Those causes grew out of the wreckage of my life," she said. "I feel I owe it to Mark and I owe it to the world to fight hard for improving aviation security, and getting rid of terrorists, and helping radical Islam to realize it has moderate roots, which are much more about love than it is; and to advance the LGBT cause."

A fifth cause, reflecting how rugby changed Mark's life when be began playing at Los Gatos High School, is to advocate for competitive sports for kids.

'Get 'em! C'mon!'

In 2002, the FBI allowed Hoagland and the other relatives of Flight 93 to hear the last 31 minutes in the lives of their sons and wives and children and husbands. As a former flight attendant, she could visualize everything happening in the jet.

She heard Mark's voice shouting: "Get 'em! Get 'em! C'mon! C'mon!"

Those days are engraved on Hoagland's memory, even the smell of the lilacs that drifted in through the window as she awoke on the morning of Sept. 12, flowers left by mourners during that night. Mark had called before he and other passengers rushed the hijackers:

"Mom, this is Mark Bingham. I just want to tell you I love you." She doesn't know why he used his whole name, maybe the extreme stress of the moment.

The plane had been hijacked, he told her. "You believe me, don't you, Mom?"

"I wish I could have been there" on that plane, she said. "I really do."

As a woman baptized a Mormon at the age of 15, who attended Brigham Young University and had Mark baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hoagland is an unlikely advocate for gay rights. She still admires some LDS teachings, although she left the church in the late '70s when leaders opposed the Equal Rights Amendment.

She spoke to the crowd at Saturday's rally against Proposition 8 in downtown San Jose. Monday, as about 100 people met at the Billy DeFrank Gay and Lesbian Center to plan next steps, someone volunteered to report on the rally and said, "Mark Bingham's mother was there!"

In fact, she was at the meeting, too, the woman sitting quietly in the first row, her hair in a bun. After the meeting, people crowded around to thank Hoagland for being there.

"I wish I could tell you how many times young men and women have come up to me and said, 'Thank you for telling Mark's story,'" she said.

Hoagland said she plans to be active in coming protests for same-sex marriage. "Its time has come," she said.

Reporter Mike Swift doesn't give much voice to the bigoted opponents of marriage equality, but the end of the piece is devoted to one of them.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been following the same-sex marriage issue in California as well.

At a hearing in June, described by The Wall Street Journal, Mohammed used decisions by state courts in California and Massachusetts to explain why he would refuse any lawyer.

"I consider all American constitution" evil, he said, because it permits "same-sexual marriage and many other things that are very bad," he told the military judge, Col. Ralph Kohlmann. "Do you understand?"

A Pentagon spokesman said the relatives in Guantánamo [watching Mohammed's trial] will be about 30 feet from Mohammed. For the first time, Hoagland and the others will be able to see the accused.

And for the first time, Mohammed will also be able to see them.

Hopefully, the other people who opposed her son's freedom will see her as well.

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