West Hollywood Mayor John Duran said that “the world suddenly changed in one day” on Sept. 11, 2001, but for one brief moment, America seemed united.
Rich Valenza, co-President of The Pop Luck Club, could barely get through his opening remarks. “Ten years later and it’s still difficult to comprehend,” he said, choking up. Screams of children playing outside the West Hollywood Park Auditorium punctuated the moments of silence, though no one inside was perturbed. “Things were different ten years ago and very different for prospective gay fathers.”
Valenza spoke of how Gamboa, 33, and Brandhorst, 42 – who had been together for 14 years – co-founded the club 13 years ago and served as mentors for prospective gays dads. “Creating our families is revolutionary,” he said. “What each of us does seems everyday but the fact is it remains difficult for us.”
In the program book, full of remembrances from the couple’s family and friends, Valenza put it this way: “We have built our families through fostering, adoption, surrogacy and co-parenting. Those without children come for resources and encouragement.
They watch in amazement as our kids eat with their friends, laugh with their dads and grow up in a generous community of support that affirms their family. Given the current situation for gay men across our country and the world, that is nothing short of revolutionary.”
Valenza noted a boulder with a memorial plaque dedicated to David Reed Gamboa Brandhorst in 2002 that is now a centerpiece of the city of West Hollywood’s new park. He also said that the names of Gamboa, Brandhorst and son David are grouped together on the new 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero – letting everyone know they were a gay family.
Openly gay West Hollywood Mayor John Duran recalled how “the world suddenly changed in one day” on Sept. 11, 2001. But for “one brief moment, it felt like the entire United States was unified. Sadly, that didn’t last.” And then he realized that LGBTs, too, had been touched by the tragedy of 9/11 – the brother of West Hollywood Marketing & Visitors Bureau President Brad Burlingame was a pilot of Flight 77, the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. But the LGBT community had a “step up on the rest of the nation” because “decade after decade after decade, we have been called upon to gather together as one” over the AIDS crisis, hate crimes and other ways the community has been vilified.
So oddly, Duran said, Sept. 11 felt almost like the Fourth of July. “That’s what this day feels like to me – a reminder that, as a people as many, we are one as we strive for justice, equality and freedom.” This day of remembrance at this event is a call to “take the baton” from those who have gone before and pass it on to the children.
“They are saying, ‘Don’t let our deaths be in vain.’ Move the baton down the field,” Duran said to the Pop Luck audience of about 80 gay dads, their kids, family and friends. “The pursuit of civil rights is not a sprint but a marathon. Passing the baton from one generation to the next is critical, and you’re kind of on the front lines. LGBTs, especially LGBT families, give flesh to the Constitution.”
Duran and his council colleagues presented Ann Rad, Gamboa’s cousin, and Rad’s daughter Syler, with a commemorative resolution.
Later Ann Rad said she thought the ceremony was “beautiful” and she was glad there was a memorial in LA since the rest of the family was at Ground Zero.
Ken Yood, Board President of The Pop Luck Club from 1998-2002, recalled his friends and mentors and how he had spoken with Gamboa and Brandhorst in Boston. “Knowing that Dan had made a second career out of collecting frequent flyer miles on United Airlines, I instinctively knew that Dan and Ron were on one of those planes,” he said, fighting tears. Their legacy as role models and mentors to prospective dads lives on.
Dr. Karen Rogers of Project Heal from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles addressed the children in the audience to try to explain “what happened that day,” on 9/11. “The men who hijacked those planes were bullies” who were trying to make new rules based on their beliefs of how people should behave,” she said. But in t his country, “we believe everybody has a right to believe differently. It takes courage to stand up and say what you believe in,” praising the honesty and courage of the gay dads.
“You are standing up to those bullies by being yourselves and fighting for your country and your families,” Rogers told the kids and their dads. “So long as there are families like yours, our country will be free.”
Many of the kids were roaming around or talking through Rogers’ remarks – but the parents were moved and appreciative. Indeed,
The Pop Luck Club had several children’s books available to help the gay dads help their kids cope with the 9/11 images and sadness.
After the relatively brief ceremony, the parents and kids, families and friends went to visit the boulder. When they left they were given seedlings of small trees to plant at home.
This is the image that greeted me upon awaking Monday morning, Sept. 12, 2011: children with saplings and smiles for their gay dads. Yes, the religious zealots are still out there wishing us harm and we must remain vigilant. But it feels as if we carry the seed of love and freedom with which t o plant a fresh start with the new generation. Indeed, as Rogers said: “So long as there are families like yours, our country will be free.” Now that’s a revolutionary responsibility.
Displayed photo of Daniel, Ron, newborn David and birthmother Michele, who went to Ground Zero for the 9/11 ceremony (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Pop Luck kids on memorial boulder in (not-yet-opened) WeHo Park (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Pop Luck kids handing out saplings to attendees, with the group's co-president John Ireland.
Reprinted with permission of LGBT/POV. For original article and more photos go to: http://www.lgbtpov.com/2011/09/rememberingthe- revolutionary-911-gamboa-brandhorstfamily- photos/ 5