Remembering Alice Hoagland, the godmother of gay rugby

We take a look back at the life of an incredible woman who passed away in 2020 and who left behind a legacy of 9/11 activism and LGBTQ+ solidarity.

Alice Hoagland and rugby players at the Bingham Cup.
Image: Twitter: @karlmondon

Alice Hoagland is a beloved figure and a legend within the international gay rugby circuit. But how did a former flight attendant from California gain such acclaim? GCN set out to explore her legacy, and uncover the heartbreaking yet powerful story behind her rise to LGBTQ+ icon status.

The root of her activism followed her son Mark Bingham’s untimely death as he was a passenger on United Flight 93 during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When Bingham realised that the plane had been hijacked, he called his mother and told her he loved her, before sadly dying in the tragedy aged just 31.

Speaking to Iowa City Press-Citizen in 2019, Hoagland remembered: “I only got three minutes with him and when I tried to call back, I couldn’t get through […] As a flight attendant for 20 years, I wanted to tell him to sit down and don’t draw attention to yourself.”

Bingham did just the opposite. The 6 foot 5, 220-pound man fought back against the attackers, and is hailed as one of the heroes who caused the plane to divert and crash in rural Pennsylvania, rather than into its intended target assumed to be the U.S. Capitol.

Mark was an openly gay rugby player who had competed with a champion rugby team at the University of California in Berkeley. He also helped to organise the gay San Francisco Fog team in 2000, and thanks to his talent, he secured his place as the main forward.

“He grew from a shy, chubby kid into a tall rugby competitor with the ability to amass his energy to face a real enemy in the cockpit of an airplane,” Hoagland commented in the same Press-Citizen article.

Soon after the tragedy in 2001, Hoagland began advocating for airline security and for justice for the victims’ families. As well as this, she became immersed in the world of gay rugby, with athletes embracing her as the godmother of the global movement.

International Gay Rugby is a network of at least 134 amateur rugby clubs worldwide, three of which – the Emerald Warriors, Cork Hellhounds, and Belfast Azlans, are based in Ireland. The teams come together every year to compete in either the Union Cup (exclusively for European clubs), or the Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament (the Bingham Cup) – an international tournament.

The Bingham Cup is essentially the gay Rugby World Cup, and as well as being named after Mark himself, one of the competition divisions is named the Hoagland Cup after Alice. 

Hoagland had been known to travel to the various Bingham Cups worldwide, with Scott Glaessgen recalling meeting her at the first-ever tournament in 2002.

“Nine months after Mark was killed, and there she is with a never-ending smile on her face, just charming and engaging and happy and proud,” he said.

“And that resilience and that strength that she just exuded was really inspirational.”

She was treated as a celebrity at every event, and she was even in attendance when Dublin was the host country for the competition in 2008. The Front Lounge was sponsoring the Emerald Warriors at the time, and teams would go to the pub after games to socialise and celebrate the occasion. Gerry Moore, a DJ in the venue, remembered Alice coming to the bar, saying: “All the teams wanted to meet her, she’s an icon now in her own right.”

According to the Associated Press, a family friend of Hoagland, Amanda Mark, commented: “Through the Bingham Cup […] she became the inspiration and the acceptance that a lot of LGBT folks needed when they may have been challenged with their families or friends to be true to themselves.”

Alice Hoagland passed away in her sleep on December 22, 2020, in her home in Los Gatos, California. Amanda Mark confirmed the news, adding that she had been battling Addison’s disease at the time. Aged 71 years-old, her life is an example of true resilience in the face of adversity, and the legacy of her 9/11 and LGBTQ+ activism will not be forgotten.

Rest in Power.

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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