Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

How to Remember a Gay Hate Crimes Victim: 12 Years After Murder, Billy Jack Gaither’s Memory is Alive

Billy Jack Gaither

Montgomery, Alabama- Billy Jack Gaither’s memory will not die.  A determined group of family, friends, and human rights advocates see to that annually, and on Sunday, February 2o, the 13th Annual Vigil for Victims of Hate and Violence will take place on the steps of the Alabama State Capital Building.  Billy Jack, 39, died February 19, 1999 on the banks of Peckerwood Creek at the hands of two local men who hate him for being gay. Steven Mullins and Charles “Charlsey” Butler had no other motive for the grisly murder. They killed Billy Jack with a pick ax handle, and then burned his body on a pyre of old tire carcasses as an expression of their disdain for him and for all LGBTQ people as human beings. “Charlsey” and the “Skinhead” wanted this gentle, loving Alabamian from Sylacauga dead, immolated, and forgotten. But Billy’s family, especially sisters Kathy Jo and Vickie, and allies such as Dr. Beverly Hawk of the University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa and David Gary of Birmingham, have doggedly refused to let the killers win. They established the Billy Jack Gaither Humanitarian Award, to be presented annually at the Vigil to persons of outstanding social conscience and action. This year, the Vigil will commence at 3 p.m. with music by The Shouting Stones, and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Choir. Professor Gwen Thomas of Auburn University is the featured speaker. The Fourth Annual Billy Jack Humanitarian Award will be given to the Rev. and Mrs. Robert Graetz. Graetz was the white pastor of the predominantly black Trinity Lutheran Church in Montgomery during the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. A personal friend of Rosa Parks, the Rev. Graetz was ostracized by whites for his support of the non-violent civil rights movement.  His auto tires were slashed. The home he shared with his wife Jennie and their family was bombed three times, but thankfully the largest and last of the bombs was a dud, and did not go off. For Billy Jack to be remembered by awarding good works such as the courageous witness of the Rev. Graetz and his wife Jeanie is wonderful in itself. The award this year certainly embraces the LGBTQ and African American communities, and brings them into further dialogue as they struggle for justice together. But the planners and board members who refuse to forget Billy Jack are doing more than staging an event and presenting a named award–they are frustrating the intentions of hate crime killers like Mullins and Butler everywhere.  They are bringing good people into an educational circle of hope and justice.  They are sending a beam of light into the darkest regions of the human soul, the places where bigotry and hatred are incubated.  So, once again, Billy Jack is remembered, celebrated, and beloved. Billy Jack’s memory is evergreen in Sweet Home Alabama.  His killers languish forgotten serving life sentences in prison. Well done, Alabamians! [Billy Jack’s story, “Southern Gothic,” is told in the newly published Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims. Follow this link for more information: http://www.amazon.com/Unfinished-Lives-Reviving-Memories-Victims/dp/1608998118/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1298017444&sr=1-2].

February 18, 2011 - Posted by | African Americans, Alabama, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, desecration of corpses, gay bashing, gay men, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

  1. Eloquent witness, Steve. I just finished Billy Jack’s chapter in “Unfinished Lives,” and, while I remember the news reports on his murder, was inexpressibly moved by the loss of this good, caring man … who could be any of us. How good to know he is still being “remembered, celebrated, and beloved” in such a powerful way … with this year’s award uniting black, white, and LBGTQ folk in the common struggle for justice. Indeed … well done, Alabamans … and well done, Stephen. Thanks for sharing this.

    Comment by Michael House | February 18, 2011

  2. How to Remember a Gay Hate Crimes Victim: 12 Years After Murder, Billy Jack Gaither’s Memory is Alive Unfinished Lives . LOL, awesome dude.

    Comment by channel 5 news today | April 28, 2011


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