Our Heroes

BY Mubarak Dahir

September 11 2011 4:00 AM ET

Carol Flyzik XLRG (DO NOT USE) | ADVOCATE.COMDavid Charlebois
Washington, D.C.

As an American Airlines copilot, he was a strong advocate for domestic-partner benefits at the company.

David Charlebois marched in uniform and helped carry the banner for the National Gay Pilots Association at the Millennium March on Washington last year. For Charlebois, it was the climax of his coming-out process.

“It was a big deal to march in uniform,” says Michael Walker, a fellow American Airlines pilot and close friend. “Most pilots you work with are ex-military, and that certainly affects their thinking and the tone of the profession.”

In recent years, however, Charlebois, while never exactly closeted, had grown tired of being discreet. As he became more open at work, he joined the fight for domestic-partner benefits in the airline industry and raised money for gay youth through the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League. He also took the incredibly public step of marching in Washington.

“We did the parade route twice,” says Doug Wood, 38, a Boston-based American Airlines pilot and friend who marched in uniform beside Charlebois that day. “After we finished marching [with the gay pilots group], we ran to the back of the parade and joined GLEAM,” the gay and lesbian employees group of American Airlines. “Dave particularly wanted to walk with the gay male flight attendants, who gave him so much support at work.”

The 39-year-old Charlebois wore his uniform for the last time on September 11, when American Airlines Flight 77, which he was copiloting, was overtaken by hijackers and crashed into the Pentagon.

“He had a lot of friends because friendship was important to him,” says Paul Poux, 39, a friend who stayed with Charlebois and his partner of almost 14 years, Tom Hay, at their Washington, D.C., home during the Millennium March. Although Charlebois had stayed up late hosting a party that festive weekend, Poux says that when he got up at 6 a.m., Charlebois was already in the kitchen brewing coffee and putting out bagels for his guests.

Poux first met Charlebois while the two were in seventh grade together in France. The son of a State Department official, Charlebois spent several childhood years in Paris, a city he grew to call his second home.

“He flew to Paris whenever he had the free time,” says Steve Gdula, 37, a close friend who lives just two blocks from Charlebois’s Dupont Circle home. “He would say that when he was on his deathbed he didn’t want to regret not making that last trip over there.”

He also loved the beach, and he and Hay had just purchased a summer house in the gay resort Rehoboth Beach, Del. “If Paris was his second city, Rehoboth was like his second neighborhood,” Walker says.

But when Charlebois was home, one of his top priorities was his elderly parents, who live in nearby Front Royal, Va. Charlebois would accompany them to Catholic church services, after which they would have lunch together.

“He was a person who was very concerned about giving back to the people and communities he loved,” Walker says. “He always wanted to do the right things.”