`You Have Become a Role Model'

(This story was published in 2001).

By: John M. Trumbo

A Letter to Mark Bingham

Dear Mark,

I didn’t know who else to write to, and as a writer, I’ve been trying for the past two days to express – somehow – the feelings I’m feeling surrounding this great tragedy. I would not presume to intrude on the severe privacy of this moment for your family, friends, co-workers or teammates, but after hearing your Mom and Aunt speak on TV, and seeing pictures of you so happy and full of life, I felt immediately tied to your particular story.

I am a resident of Washington, D.C., and could smell the fuel and fire from my office as the Pentagon burned. A co-worker drove by it minutes after the crash and reported seeing the smoke. I live just seven blocks from the Capitol. I also have close ties to NYC. My brother and sister-in-law live in Manhattan. She saw the wreckage from her office window near the UN; he had been in the Towers thousands of times for his job. Thankfully, we are all OK. Yet you seem to be as much a part of my family.

The fact of the matter is, I do have a personal stake in your story. I did not learn until today, through sporting web sites, that you, too, were gay. Yet somehow I knew. It took my breath away when I found your rugby team’s memorial to you, then it all started to settle in. You wrote to your teammates after your club was accepted into the Northern California Rugby Football Union about your ability (finally) to reconcile your two worlds: that of a heterosexually-dominated world (sports) while being homosexually-inclined:

“…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. Good rugby players. Good partiers. Good sports. Good men.”

You have won. You have become an outstanding role model not only for gay men and women of your generation but of those to come. Hell, you kicked some major terrorist ass! There are so many questions I wish I could ask you about how it all began, the horror unwittingly forced upon you, what you decided to do and how you went about it.

I am so impressed with you and the other passengers on your flight who, I have to imagine, took it upon yourselves – in the midst of unbelievable, numbing terror – to comprehend what was going on, have the clear-mindedness to phone the outside and tell your story not only to your loved ones but to the rest of us, and then! and then, to do whatever it was you did to stop those bastards.

I suppose, however, those are things we’ll never know, or possibly should know. But know this: you’ll be missed by more people here on Earth than you ever met. You’ve shown – in such a grand way – that we’re all in this thing together and are more similar than we are different. That’s the best type of PR that one can ever produce.

“Hero” is often an overused word, one that I can’t say I’ve had occasion to implement. Until now. Mark, you’re my hero. The pictures I have seen of you give the distinct impression of an energetic, happy, spirit-filled young man who managed to integrate a very personal, yet ultimately essential, part of his life. I’m tipping a pint to you. To good rugby players. To good partiers. To good sports. And to good men.

Thanks, Mark, for what you did and, more importantly, what you mean to all of us left behind.

John M. Trumbo

Washington, DC

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