Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Feel the Morning Breaking: Remembering Bill Clayton (1978-1995)

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Bill Clayton wanted to be a sculptor, a teacher, an architect, a counselor…but his life was cut short by irrational hatred on May 8, 1995.  He was barely 17.  Bill had come out to his parents as a bisexual three years before, when he was 14.  Molested by a sexual predator that same year, he went into intensive therapy and regained his old confidence.  It took years, but by April 1995 he and his counselor agreed that he was no longer in need of counseling for the PTSD that had plagued him for the past three years.

Bill was out at school, and a vocal, active proponent of the rights of sexual minorities.  When an anti-LGBT storm broke over a Women’s History Month speaking invitation to Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer (who defied Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the U.S. Military) at Olympia (Washington) High School, where Bill was a student, he openly supported her presence on campus.  She was allowed to speak on March 21, 1995.  Strong, homophobic feelings hung thick in the air after that.

Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer

Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer

On April 6, 1995, ironically one day after his therapist released him, Bill and his friends Sam and Jenny were attacked by a gang of students in broad daylight.  The two boys were beaten and kicked unconscious after being verbally assaulted for being queer.  The police arrested several boys under 18 who had acted on the community’s homophobia by targeting Bill and his friends.  The assault was treated as a hate crime from the beginning. In time, the boys who attacked Bill and Sam were sentenced to 20-30 days in juvenile detention, followed up by probation and community service and four hours of diversity training concentrated on sexual orientation.

Bill after the hate crime assault

Bill after the hate crime assault

Olympia rose to the challenge, and began to face its homophobia at a rally in a city park on April 14.  Bill spoke out, saying, “As an openly bisexual person in Olympia, I’m probably–or may be–the victim of this sort of thing again.  Hate crimes–especially those against homosexuals and bisexuals and transgendered people are on the rise in this area.  And that is why now–more than ever–we, the gay community need to come out and band together and fight for our civil rights and our right to be safe in our homes and on the streets.”  It was a brave thing for him to do.

As a result of the attack, Bill fell into a deep depression, becoming suicidal.  His family hospitalized him for his own protection and healing.  Ten days later he came back home.  He told his mother that all he could see ahead was a lifetime of dealing with one assault after another, and he was tired of coping with it all.  She wrote about his fear and depression, “He was 17 years old–an age when kids are supposed to be excited about moving out into the world as adults.  The only place he felt safe was at home.”  She continued, “He saw no hope, so he chose to end his life.”  As a living memorial to Bill, his mother, father, and brother have become advocates for LGBTQ youth, and strong voices for the prevention of teen gay suicide.  They have not forgotten Bill, and we cannot let ourselves forget him, either.

One of Bill's last paintings, done while hospitalized for depression after the assault

One of Bill's last paintings, done while hospitalized for depression after the assault, "Hold Back The Dawn."

Now, with anti-bullying legislation on the books in several states, and pending in several others (NC, for one), Bill’s passion for life has a new dawning of hope.  Federal legislation has been introduced in Congress to address school bullying and violence.  Bill’s story takes on new power as the cause of security and hope for LGBT youth moves to center stage in American consciousness.  Every time a life is saved, every time a young boy or girl is helped not to take their lives, Bill Clayton is honored.  To save the lives of young queer folk is to vindicate the passion of our young brother, Bill, and all the thousands like him for whom the dawn did not break in time.

To that end, here is the link to the Trevor Helpline, http://www.thetrevorproject.org/ the oldest and largest 24/7 suicide prevention helpline for LGBTQ youth in existence.  If you or a friend are feeling lost and alone, call the Trevor Helpline, 866-4-U-Trevor, [866-488-7386].  There is hope, there is help.  Bill has not been forgotten. The morning is breaking.

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May 11, 2009 - Posted by | Bisexual persons, Heterosexism and homophobia, Legislation, Lesbian women, military, Protests and Demonstrations, Slurs and epithets | , , , , , , ,

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