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Alice Hoagland with her son Mark Bingham before his death.
The scenario is tiresomely familiar. A celebrity makes an offensive comment. He's called on it. He apologizes. He seeks help from GLAAD. He apologizes again. That is basically what television and radio personality Carson Daly did after telling a lame joke inspired by the recent news story about a disturbed JetBlue pilot being restrained by passengers during a flight from New York to Las Vegas. On a positive note, the mother of a gay hero has attempted to make of Daly's offensive comments a teachable moment.
As TMZ reported on March 28, 2012, Daly joked on his Los Angeles radio program that had the passengers been headed to San Francisco for gay pride weekend, they wouldn't have been able to prevent the airline from crashing.
Soon after TMZ's report, Daly apologized, tweeting, "This morning on my radio show I attempted to make fun of myself & offended others by mistake. I sincerely apologize."
As reactions to his comments spread through the blogosphere, he consulted with GLAAD and issued a fuller apology: "We live in a time where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals find courage every day to overcome adversity, stand up to bullying and find equality. I'm truly saddened that my words today suggested otherwise. I've long been a supporter of gay, lesbian, and transgender rights, and I'm saddened that my comments, however unintentional, offended anyone, specifically members of the LGBT community.
He added, "The fact that I have hurt anyone is devastating. I'm not that guy. I'm proud to be an ally of the LGBT community and will continue to fight with them."
Daly's cheap joke was undoubtedly made without malice. It simply drew upon hurtful stereotypes of gay men as unmanly, cowardly, and frivolous.
What made the comments particularly stinging, however, is that it unthinkingly insulted the memory of brave gay heroes, many of whom have given their lives defending the country.
More specifically, the JetBlue incident was reminiscent of a more famous incident in which passengers, notably including an athletic gay man, fought back against hijackers.
On September 11, 2001, soon after United Flight 93 began its scheduled journey from Newark to San Francisco, it was hijacked by terrorists who redirected it toward Washington, D. C., where they apparently planned to crash it into either the U. S. Capitol or the White House.
Flight 93 passengers learned from cell phone conversations that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had already been attacked. An openly gay businessman and avid rugby player Mark Bingham and three other athletic young men sitting in the rear of the plane--Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett, and Jeremy Glick--decided to act. They stormed the cockpit and forced the plane to crash into an empty field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
Although all the passengers on the plane were killed, the actions of Bingham, Beamer, Burnett, and Glick undoubtedly saved the lives of many more by averting an attack on a Washington, D. C. landmark.
The heroism of the brave passengers of Flight 93 have been celebrated in a number of films and television reenactments, as well as a memorial at the crash site, so Daly should certainly know that at least some gay people are capable of acting heroically in circumstances similar to that faced by the passengers on the JetBlue flight.
Melissa Etheridge's "Tuesday Morning" is a tribute to Bingham that specifically contrasts his heroism with the denial of equal rights that he experienced as a gay man.
Interestingly, Daly's stupid joke came to the attention of Bingham's mother, Alice Hoagland. A woman of enormous dignity and poise, she told TMZ, when asked for a comment, "Yes, my gay son was known in our family for bringing me flowers on my birthday and Mother's Day. He also was known for careening down the rugby pitch, and, on the morning of September 11, 2001, for charging unarmed down the aisle of a doomed Boeing 757 to face knife-wielding Islamist thugs in a hijacked cockpit."
She added, "No one among his pick-up team of fellow passengers was asking 'Are you straight? Are you gay?' No one doubted that a guy who weighed 220 and stood 6'4" tall--who could run over a charging opponent on the field, and ran with the bulls in Pamplona earlier that summer--would be an asset to a desperate group trying to overcome a threat onboard an airliner."
Attempting to transform Daly's lame joke into a teachable moment, Hoagland concluded: "The world has its share of strong, heroic gay men. Gay men in sports uniforms and military uniforms have been winning America's games and fighting America's battles for a long time: quietly, humbly, and in the face of vicious bigotry."
In the video below, Hoagland is interviewed by Karen Ocamb about a film telling her son's story and about the California Fair Education Act.