9/11 Voices: LGBT Leaders and First Responders

BY Julie Bolcer

September 09 2011 4:00 AM ET

9/11 CONSTRUCTION 560x (GETTY) ADVOCATE.COM

Others remember the interminable waiting. Deanna Croce, then
a case manager at the Hetrick-Martin Institute for LGBTQ youth, made her way to
the organization’s East Village headquarters after witnessing the devastation
downtown just seven blocks from the World Trade Center. She arrived to find the
chaos of phone calls as staff members and youths in attendance for the regular
school day froze to await news of loved ones who worked at the Twin Towers.

Now a supervising counselor at Hetrick-Martin, Croce recalls that the
violence and bullying faced by many of the youths on a daily basis did not
cease during the disaster.

“One of the kids was gay-bashed in the middle of it,” she
says. “Their nose ring was ripped out. Tensions were high, and people saw this
group of kids and then attacked. It was in the middle of the day.”

Croce worked with the students that day, but she did not see
the homeless population served by Hetrick-Martin in the afternoons as the city shut down
on September 11 and in the following days. Their absence raised a haunting
question faced by homeless LGBTQ youths in any disaster that tests the limits
of a society.

“You’ve got really resourceful young people, but when you’re
hit with these extraordinary times, the plans don’t work anymore,” says Croce.
“What if you’re LGBT? Where do you go?”

Ryan, who retired from FDNY in 2003 after more than 20
years, remained at ground zero for eight days
performing the “devastating work” of rescue and recovery while spending nights
in the firehouse. Later in the week, he attended the funeral for Father Mychal
Judge, the gay FDNY chaplain killed by debris on 9/11 when the South Tower
collapsed. Although the men were not close, he became a pallbearer for Judge by
accident when another person carrying the Franciscan priest’s casket wavered.

A former president of Fireflag/EMS, a group for LGBT first responders,
Ryan believes the shock of losing 343 firefighters and the wave of retirements in
subsequent years ushered in change marked by new, younger recruits that has
made it somewhat easier to be openly gay in the FDNY. However, every year on
the anniversary, he remembers those whose contributions go unspoken.

“I think the part of 9/11 that we still need to talk about
is that there were gay people there,” he said. “You can’t lump 9/11 into one
category. It was an attack on America, but it goes to the issue of what America
is.”

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