FRONTLINE 1811K "Assault on Gay
Air Date: February 15,
Assault on Gay America: The Life and Death of
Written, Produced and Directed by Claudia Pryor
Forrest Sawyer, Correspondent
ANNOUNCER: A year ago, in the middle of the night, on
a dark road in Alabama, Bill Jack Gaither was brutally killed and set on fire
because he was gay.
RICKY GAITHER: Bill was like an angel. If the guys
didn't like him because of the way he was, leave him alone. Why did they have
to kill him?
CHARLES BUTLER: Would you like for a gay man to hit on
you? You know, how would you feel?
FORREST SAWYER, Correspondent: I don't think I would
kick him, Charles.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, correspondent Forrest
Sawyer investigates the rise of hate crimes against gay men and the roots of
homophobia in America.
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] In the small town
of Sylacauga, Alabama, Billy Jack Gaither lived a life defined by duty, family
and discretion. He lived with his elderly parents. He worked for the same
company for 15 years. On Sundays he sang in his church choir. And on Friday
and Saturday night, he went to the tavern, where he loved to dance. For all of
his 39 years, Billy Jack Gaither worked very hard to fit in.
MARION HAMMOND: Billy Jack was just a normal person.
And people would walk up and say "Is he gay?" And we'd say "Yeah." If they
walked over to Billy Jack, and they say "Are you gay?" he'd say, "Yes, and I
love it." We accepted him like one of the girls, and he enjoyed that.
FORREST SAWYER: What Marion Hammond did not accept was
gays openly displaying their affections in her bar. On one occasion, she
complained to her long-time friend, Billy Jack.
MARION HAMMOND: I was worried to death about it, you
know, because they was actually offending my customers that was straight. They
would, like, sit together and kiss at the tables. And I don't even allow my
straight customers to paw all over theirselves in here because a lot of people
my age and older get very offended at something like that.
And Billy Jack just went and said, "If you want to go and kiss
and hug and all that kind of stuff, you go to Birmingham. You go to a gay bar.
You come in here, you act like everybody else, or don't come."
FORREST SAWYER: When Billy Jack wanted to be openly
gay, he drove 40 miles to a bar in Birmingham. He would tell friends about his
experiences, but would never reveal the names of the men he dated.
MARION HAMMOND: Oh, we asked him, we begged him, we
pleaded with him, but it didn't do no good. You know, I had girls that were
single just beg Billy Jack, "Please, Billy Jack, so I won't date him," you know?
And he never would.
FORREST SAWYER: Marion remembers the last night Billy
Jack stopped by the tavern. It was Friday, February 19th, last year. There was
a man waiting in his car outside.
MARION HAMMOND: He made the comment, "Marion," he
said, "don't worry about who's in my car." He said, "They're going to come in
in a little while. They're just not ready to come in right now." And I wish to
God I'd been nosy enough to walk over and see, but I knew Billy Jack didn't want
us to really know who he saw. So I didn't.
FORREST SAWYER: The man out in the car was 24-year-old
Steven Eric Mullins. He was usually unemployed and needing money. He had a
reputation as a troublemaker. He and Billy Jack drove to a pool hall to pick up
a friend of Mullins's, 21-year-old Charles Butler.
CHARLES BUTLER: That's where I met Billy. He was out
there in the parking lot.
FORREST SAWYER: [on camera] What was he
CHARLES BUTLER: I don't know. Like any other fellow,
I reckon. I'm pretty sure he was a good person, you know, and I've heard of him
being a good person.
FORREST SAWYER: Did you know he was gay?
CHARLES BUTLER: No, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: He wasn't flamboyant. He just
CHARLES BUTLER: No, sir. He didn't act flamboyant
right there in the car, you know?
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Drinking beer
from a six-pack provided by Billy Jack, Butler says they drove to a spot deep in
the Alabama woods. There, he says, Billy Jack surprised him.
CHARLES BUTLER: He looks toward me and, you know,
starts talking about that homosexual acts, you know? And I just ain't no
partaker in none of that.
FORREST SAWYER: [on camera] Billy Jack looked
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: And what did he say,
CHARLES BUTLER: The onliest thing that sticks in my
mind is about the threesome, you know. That's, you know- that's really the
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Butler claims
that proposition was so offensive, he kicked Billy Jack several times, even
though Billy Jack was almost a foot taller.
CHARLES BUTLER: He didn't have no respect.
FORREST SAWYER: [on camera] He was
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: How was that disrespect?
CHARLES BUTLER: Well, sir, I don't know. It's not
like I'm some gay tramp out there, you know, waiting to be cornholed by some
prick, you know?
FORREST SAWYER: So if a woman had done that to you,
that wouldn't be disrespect?
CHARLES BUTLER: No, sir. I don't reckon so.
FORREST SAWYER: Why is it disrespect if a man does
CHARLES BUTLER: Well, sir, why would he want to just
assume that I was gay just as hisself and throw himself on me like he
FORREST SAWYER: Did he start grabbing you
CHARLES BUTLER: No, sir. He didn't start grabbing at
me or nothing like that.
FORREST SAWYER: He just asked you. It was just words,
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: So tell me why that's
CHARLES BUTLER: Well, sir, would you like for a gay
man to hit on you? You know, would you like for him to engage you into a
threesome? You know, how would you feel?
FORREST SAWYER: I don't think I would kick him,
CHARLES BUTLER: You don't think so?
FORREST SAWYER: Kicking him did what for
CHARLES BUTLER: Didn't do a whole lot of nothing, you
know? Didn't do no good, that's for sure.
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Butler says he
walked away to relieve himself. Suddenly, he heard a noise and looked back.
For some reason, Mullins had attacked Billy Jack, stabbing him in the
CHARLES BUTLER: The onliest thing I looked at is all
the blood coming from him, you know? I really- you know, he looked pretty bad,
you know, the way he was covered up.
FORREST SAWYER: [on camera] The blood was
coming from where?
CHARLES BUTLER: From around his neck.
FORREST SAWYER: Did you ask Billy Jack what
CHARLES BUTLER: Hell, no. Why would I want to ask him
FORREST SAWYER: [on camera] Mullins forced
Billy Jack to climb into the trunk of his own car. Billy Jack began to plead
for his life.
CHARLES BUTLER: Billy says to him just turn him loose,
that he won't say nothing to nobody. But Steve, he just told him to shut and
just get in the trunk.
FORREST SAWYER: [on camera] As you were
driving along, you knew Billy Jack was still alive.
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: Could you hear Billy Jack in the
trunk, or was it quiet?
CHARLES BUTLER: It was quiet.
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] They drove to
Mullins's trailer in nearby Fayetteville, picked up a can of kerosene and some
old tires and piled it all on top of Billy Jack.
[on camera] Was Billy Jack dead by that
CHARLES BUTLER: It looked like he was.
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] To dump the body,
they drove to a desolate spot called Peckerwood Creek. But when they opened the
trunk, Billy Jack was still alive and strong enough to stand up and knock
Mullins down a 20-foot embankment.
CHARLES BUTLER: I hear Steve hollering, so I take to
running, you know?
FORREST SAWYER: [on camera] What were you
CHARLES BUTLER: I don't know. I really don't
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] While Butler hid
in the woods, Billy Jack was desperately trying to start the car, but Mullins
still had the keys. He climbed back up, dragged Billy Jack out of the car and
beat him to death with an axe handle.
CHARLES BUTLER: Seeing Steve standing over him,
beating him like he was, you know, it's just- you know, I could feel every thump
that went across his body, you know?
FORREST SAWYER: Billy Jack Gaither was finally dead.
Together, Mullins and Charles Butler burned the body, then took the car to the
town dump and torched it.
[on camera] Did you all talk during the
CHARLES BUTLER: No, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: Didn't say a word to each
CHARLES BUTLER: No, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: Because?
CHARLES BUTLER: Because I didn't want to wind up like
NEWS REPORTER: When gay college student Matthew
Shepard was left to die alone on a fence post after being brutally beaten, it
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Six months before
Billy Jack was killed, the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming had captured the
NEWS REPORTER: Army Private Calvin Glover confessed to
the killing of a fellow soldier last July, a soldier widely believed to be
FORREST SAWYER: In Kentucky, Private Barry Winchell
was bludgeoned to death by another soldier while he lay sleeping.
NEWS REPORTER: Benjamin and James Williams are
reportedly suspects in the shooting deaths of a gay couple, Gary
FORREST SAWYER: In Redding, California, Gary Matson
and Scott Mowder were shot to death in their bed.
These are some of the worst examples of homophobia, the hatred
or fear of gay people, and they are not isolated incidents. The FBI says bias
crimes against gays doubled between 1990 and 1998.
Forensic psychologist Karen Franklin used court records to
track down and interview people convicted of assaulting gays to find out why
they did it.
KAREN FRANKLIN, Ph.D., Forensic Psychologist:
Perpetrators feel that they are entitled, if not expected, to help to punish
people who are stepping out of bounds for their male role or their female role.
An example would be a young man that told me that- I asked him why he had
committed an anti-gay crime, and he said, "Well, this man was wearing lipstick
and high heels. What do you expect me to do?"
FORREST SAWYER: Another man told her about going to
gay areas looking for people to beat up and rob.
KAREN FRANKLIN: I was asking him how did he target his
victims. He started looking at some of the young men walking by, much like the
young men who are passing now as we're filming, and certain individuals he would
just say, "Look at that guy. Just look at him. I mean, he's weak. He's an easy
target." He told me that "Men, if they don't know how to carry themselves, then
they're asking for it."
DEREK HENKEL: I wasn't the traditional male. I
wasn't, you know, trading baseball cards. I was a lot more effeminate. I
wasn't into sports.
FORREST SAWYER: By age 5, Derek Henkel knew he was
different from other boys growing up in Reno, Nevada. By the time he was 12,
the other boys knew it, too.
DEREK HENKEL: I would get on the bus in the morning
and just be constantly harassed. And people would threaten to beat me up
constantly for a 45-minute bus ride in and a 45-minute bus ride out.
You just go every day and you try to hope that it'll get
better. You really don't have any other options. You have to go to school.
And so it's kind of like, you know, being drafted into a war, except it's, you
know, a war where you're the only one fighting for yourself.
FORREST SAWYER: By the time he got to high school,
Derek was openly gay and paid the price for it. The worst moment came one
afternoon in the school parking lot. He says a group of students with a rope
started to follow him, threatening to string him up.
DEREK HENKEL: And they got it around my neck three
times, and I was able to get if off. All I can remember is just being
surrounded by these people and how hard that was. And I was scared to death for
my life. I at that moment did not know what was going to happen.
FORREST SAWYER: Derek escaped by hiding in a classroom
for two hours. He eventually dropped out of school and left Reno. Now he's a
full-time activist, helping other gay teens cope with the same kind of
harassment he experienced.
DEREK HENKEL: I want people to know it's not over when
you get attacked in high school. There's a life beyond homophobia.
[www.pbs.org: Learn more about Derek's story]
FORREST SAWYER: Homophobia, Karen Franklin says, may
often be caused by the need young men have to prove their masculinity.
KAREN FRANKLIN, Ph.D., Forensic Psychologist: That's
very important, and it has to be done. In order to change from a boy to a man,
one has to prove that one is masculine, and one way to do that is to assault
STUDENT: [GLSEN video] That's so
STUDENT: You faggot!
STUDENT: So you're a queer, aren't you?
FORREST SAWYER: The Gay, Lesbian and Straight
Education Network, GLSEN, produced this video and surveyed nearly 500 gay high
school students around the country. Sixty-nine percent reported some form of
harassment. Thirteen percent reported physical assaults.
KAREN FRANKLIN: Not to minimize atrocious things like
what happened to Matthew Shepard, but at the same time, the day-to-day things
that are going on in schools are very harmful psychologically.
FORREST SAWYER: That's why Karen Franklin decided to
study attitudes toward gays among 484 Bay Area college students.
KAREN FRANKLIN: One out of ten said that they had
either threatened or actually physically assaulted somebody they thought was a
gay man or a lesbian, and another twenty-four percent reported name-calling. So
more than a third reported some type of anti-gay behavior. And I had no idea
that was going to be that high. Among male respondents, it was even higher,
about fifty percent.
FORREST SAWYER: Fully one third of the respondents
also said they would physically assault any gay person who made a pass at
KAREN FRANKLIN: "If they're going to come on to me, I
have to hit them because otherwise I'm a chump or a sissy, or I'm like a woman.
I'm not standing up for myself." This is young men saying this to me. And they
really believe this. I don't think that they're making this up. I think that
this is their mindset.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL, Ph.D., Sociologist, SUNY Stony
Brook: [in class] The first rule, maybe the most important rule of
all masculinity, is no sissy stuff. What makes a man a man is that he is
relentlessly repudiating the feminine.
FORREST SAWYER: Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at the
State University of New York, Stony Brook, has studied masculinity as an
American cultural phenomenon.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: Well, one of the things that I try
to do in my classes and in the workshops that I do is to get the students to
think about the connection between homophobia and masculinity, how homophobia is
one of the basic building blocks of masculinity.
[in class] What comes into your head when you hear
someone come up to you and say, "Be a man"?
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: Strong. OK. What does it mean,
"Be a man"?
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: What else?
STUDENT: Don't show emotion.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: Don't show emotion. Anything
STUDENT: Be tough.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: Tough. OK, strong, fearless,
Here's the "Be a man" box-
FORREST SAWYER: Kimmel has drawn a box around the
students' list of masculine attributes, the same qualities that made Steve
Mullins a role model for Charles Butler.
[on camera] Up until this point, I got a feeling you
kind of looked up to Steve.
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: What was it that you respected and
admired about him?
CHARLES BUTLER: Well, sir, I don't know. He was
strong, you know? And he had a way with women, you know? And he was a smooth
FORREST SAWYER: Didn't take any grief from other
CHARLES BUTLER: No, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: What is that?
CHARLES BUTLER: Just stand up for yourself and, you
know, be strong. Don't let nobody tear you apart.
FORREST SAWYER: What does that mean?
CHARLES BUTLER: What's it mean? Don't let somebody
get to you. Don't let anybody get inside of you.
FORREST SAWYER: So he was, in your mind, the picture
of what a man ought to be?
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: [in class] What words are
likely to be used to describe you if you are not perceived as being in this
STUDENT: A girly man.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: What else?
STUDENT: A faggot.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: Yeah.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: Wus. OK. What else?
STUDENT: A queer.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: A queer. OK.
STUDENT: A sissy.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: Sissy.
FORREST SAWYER: When you were growing up, were there
gay people around?
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir. I had one friend in
particular, you know, and he's lived with us several times. And I've been to
gay clubs with him and all that. But you know, we had an understanding from
this guy we met, you know, that we was friends, and we was only to be friends,
FORREST SAWYER: So you've had gay friends?
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: It's not that you mind gay
CHARLES BUTLER: No, sir. It's not at all.
FORREST SAWYER: But, you went to gay clubs.
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: Now, Charles, if you go to a gay club,
you know that other men are going to look at you and say, "Well, he's here. I'm
here. He must be gay."
CHARLES BUTLER: No, sir. There's no such thing, you
know. Especially when a fellow like me walk into a bar, you know, just my
appearance alone sets me off, you know, but-
FORREST SAWYER: You mean you don't look gay?
CHARLES BUTLER: That's right.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: [in class] You're at a bar or a
party, and you're talking to someone. And you start to say to yourself, "I
don't know. I think this guy might be gay." What I want you to do is tell me
how you know. Remember, these are stereotypes and that's what we
STUDENT: They do this with their hands.
STUDENT: So their wrists are limp.
STUDENT: They way they speak.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: How they talk. And how do they
STUDENT: [unintelligible] girlfriend. And they
move their head from side to side.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: OK, so there's some body gestures.
There's a lot of-
STUDENT: They always have to be trendy.
STUDENT: They're very physical.
STUDENT: Like, if they're, like, a decorator or
STUDENT: More open, I guess, to do what a woman would
do with another woman, as far as talking about how they feel about
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Many of the gay
stereotypes seem more positive than the masculine ones, but that made no
difference to the students in Kimmel's workshop.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: How many of the men in here would
like everyone to think that they're gay? Yeah, that's what I thought.
These stereotypes are what keep them acting really
traditionally masculine. They don't want to be seen as any of these things.
This becomes a kind of negative rule book. And so as a result, homophobia
becomes a real straitjacket pushing us toward a very traditional definition of
[in class] So here's the question. What do you do to
make sure no one gets the wrong idea?
STUDENT: You act like a man.
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: You make sure you don't do these
things. Make sure that you show absolutely no physical expression with your
hands. Make sure that you are absolutely inexpressive, that you dress like
shit, that you like only Metallica, that you take certain jobs but don't take
others. You never talk about your feelings, come on to every woman that you
meet, to whom you exude an enormous amount of sexual energy, and never express
yourself physically. You get the point?
Homophobia is the fear that people will get the wrong idea
MARION HAMMOND: I think the loss of Billy Jack has
opened a lot of people's eyes because any town you live in, there is a gay
person here, there and yonder. And they didn't realize it. It's like there was
no gays nowhere but in the big cities. They're everywhere.
FORREST SAWYER: But gays weren't supposed to be in the
deeply religious Gaither family. Ricky Gaither remembers that at first his
younger brother Billy Jack denied his homosexuality.
RICKY GAITHER: Billy and I, we went out on a double
date. The girl he was with was a real pretty girl, you know? And he was having
fun, but he wasn't being Billy, you know, and I could tell that. So we talked
about his life, and he tried to tell me that he was not gay. And I said,
"Billy, I just want to let you know one thing. Whether you are or whether you
aren't, you're my brother. I love you. I'll never turn my back on
FORREST SAWYER: Kathy Gaither, Billy Jack's older
sister, easily understood her brother's homosexuality because she, too, is gay.
For 10 years she's been living openly with her partner, Shirley.
KATHY GAITHER: I'm comfortable with it, always have
been. There's some in the family haven't been comfortable, but- it took a long
time for them to accept me.
RICKY GAITHER: Kathy has always been, like, the
tomboy, and people used to make fun of her at school. And she has always had a
deep voice. I mean, we'd go to the store, my grandparents on the weekend, you
know, little country store, and the guys would stand out and say, "I bet five on
Kathy. I bet five on Ricky." And they'd try to get us to fight, you know?
We're 8 and 9 years old, and Kathy's- Kathy's the little brother that I always
wanted before I had my brother.
FORREST SAWYER: And that brother was Billy Jack who,
even as a child, Ricky says, was different from the other Gaither
RICKY GAITHER: He didn't bully anybody around like,
you know, most of us did. That was me and my brother, William. We did those
things. Billy, he would usually say, "Leave him alone. Don't bother him." You
know, "He didn't do nothing." And he was always taking up for the
FORREST SAWYER: As an adult, Billy Jack's prized
possession was a Gone With the Wind doll collection, which he kept in
RICKY GAITHER: Not one of them, all of them. He would
always take the kids in there and show it to them, and they'd sit and they'd
talk. And he'd let them go in his room and watch his T.V. You know, Uncle
Billy was Uncle Billy.
FORREST SAWYER: Both Ricky and Kathy believe it was
harder for their father to accept his son being gay than his daughter.
KATHY GAITHER: Our daddy, he wanted all his boys to be
boys and tough. And Billy, in his own way, he was tough, but not macho, you
RICKY GAITHER: I don't think Mom and Dad really in
their hearts knew how to accept it, knew how to deal with it. But I know my Mom
and Dad, Billy Jack was their life.
KATHY GAITHER: I said, you know, "Listen to Mom and
Dad, but you do what's in your heart." You know, "Be true to
FORREST SAWYER: For Billy, that wasn't easy. He never
identified the men he dated, nor did he settle down with one partner. He was
protecting his parents' feelings.
MARION HAMMOND: He told us before plenty of times,
"They know I'm gay, but they don't know I'm gay. So I don't take it
INTERVIEWER: So he let them live in denial?
MARION HAMMOND: No, he respected their right to think
of their son as what they wanted to.
RICKY GAITHER: Unless you walked right up to him and
said, "Billy, are you gay?" he wouldn't come up to you and say, "I'm gay." You
know, he wouldn't. But if you asked him, he would tell you, yes.
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Billy Jack knew
his way around the straight world of Sylacauga, so Marion Hammond didn't think
too much of it when one night she saw him talking to a tough former skinhead
named Steve Mullins.
MARION HAMMOND: Yeah, I was bartending, and they'd be
at the other end of the bar talking.
INTERVIEWER: Did they seem friendly or-
MARION HAMMOND: Didn't seem like there was no problem
STEVE MULLINS: [ABC News "20/20"] You wouldn't
think of him as being gay just from- you know, just talking to him in a bar or
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Steve Mullins is
the man who killed Billy Jack Gaither. He refused to talk with FRONTLINE,
granting only one interview to ABC. He admits that Billy Jack helped him, but
says he also once propositioned him. That's when, Mullins says, Billy Jack
crossed a line.
STEVE MULLINS: [ABC News "20/20"] I was
shocked. I thought we had had a- you know, a pretty respectful relationship up
until then. But yet, I tried to brush it off and act like it really didn't
happen. It started eating at me and bothering me a lot.
RICKY GAITHER: Billy helped him. He would drive 20
miles out of his way to take them to the grocery store because they didn't have
a way. He would loan them money when they didn't have money. You know, I don't
know about Butler, but he did Mullins. Mullins is the one that killed him. It
seemed to me like if he should have been anything, he should have been his
FORREST SAWYER: Mullins says for weeks he seethed over
Billy Jack's proposition.
STEVE MULLINS: [ABC News "20/20"] I woke up at
5:30 the morning of February 19th, and I was going to do whatever I had to do to
kill Billy Jack. To me, it didn't seem like it was any different than waking up
and saying, "I'm going to the grocery store this afternoon."
FORREST SAWYER: Telephone records show Mullins called
Butler at 8:12 in the morning and then again just before 4:00 in the afternoon.
He arranged to have Billy Jack pick him up at 7:00 P.M. They stopped at the
tavern so Billy Jack could collect $20 from a friend.
Then they went to the Frame to pick up Charles Butler.
Mullins says he had recruited Butler to help him get rid of Billy Jack a week or
two earlier. In court, Mullins said, "I thought I could trust him because I
knew he didn't like queers, either."
[on camera] You know that he said that he told you he
was going to get rid of Billy Jack.
CHARLES BUTLER: Well, sir, I believe he said it was a
FORREST SAWYER: So he never said any of that to
CHARLES BUTLER: No, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: That was all fabricated.
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: He never said nothing to you about
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir.
FORREST SAWYER: How come you didn't try to stop him?
How come you actually helped him with the tires?
CHARLES BUTLER: Knowing Steve was there, you know?
Steve was always there, you know? And you've seen him for yourself. Steve's a
big old boy.
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Contrary to
Butler's story, Mullins says he and Butler had always planned to kill Billy Jack
that night. And when Billy Jack pleaded for his life, neither man had any
STEVE MULLINS: [ABC News "20/20"] He asked me
to let him go, that he wouldn't- and told me he wouldn't say anything. I told
him it was too late because he was a faggot.
FORREST SAWYER: Mullins then forced Billy Jack into
the trunk of the car. He and Butler drove to Peckerwood Creek, where Billy
Jack, still alive, knocked Mullins down the embankment.
STEVE MULLINS: [ABC News "20/20"] I climbed
back up to the top. Billy Jack was trying to get in the car, and Charles was
FORREST SAWYER: Ricky Gaither believes that at that
moment, Mullins's sense of manhood was at stake.
RICKY GAITHER: Mullins was supposed to be this tough
guy. And I think really what happened is when Billy, this supposedly the sissy
kind of guy, with his throat cut, jumped out of the trunk and knocked this macho
punk down, he was, like, "Oh, man. I can't let him live and tell about this.
There goes my image. There goes my reputation."
STEVE MULLINS: [ABC News "20/20"] I drug him
to the back of the car and got the axe handle, started to beat him. I beat him
until I couldn't do it anymore, until, you know, all the adrenaline was
RICKY GAITHER: The steering wheel in his car is
actually bent all the way to the middle, from where Mullins pulled him out of
the car. He was dying that night. There was no way around it.
FORREST SAWYER: This case was solved because Charles
Butler could not keep a secret. The night of the murder, he confessed to his
father, saying, according to his police statement, "Daddy, we kicked a queer's
ass." Butler's father told a friend, and within a week the two killers were in
At the trial, Mullins showed no remorse. He testified he
killed Billy Jack because he was gay and because Mullins wanted to rob him.
Butler was tried separately and convicted. Both killers stuck to their stories.
[www.pbs.org: Examine trial excerpts]
RICKY GAITHER: They lied. Billy Jack didn't
proposition people. You know, they may come up and talk to Billy, and- because
Billy wouldn't approach anybody that didn't approach him. He didn't push
hisself on people. He didn't push the gay life on people.
FORREST SAWYER: If Ricky is right, then what was the
motive for Billy Jack's murder?
[on camera] Why do you think Steve jumped
CHARLES BUTLER: I don't know. I have no idea. I
don't reckon he wanted his sex life to get out to anybody.
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] And that was the
biggest surprise in the case. Four witnesses testified that Steve Mullins had a
secret homosexual sex life. One man described having oral sex with Mullins.
All four said Mullins did not want anyone in Sylacauga to know his
[on camera] And so the killing was a
CHARLES BUTLER: I guess so.
FORREST SAWYER: Is that what you really
CHARLES BUTLER: I don't know what to think.
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Kathy Gaither
remembers that a full month before the murder, Billy Jack had given her a clue
to Mullins's secret.
KATHY GAITHER: Billy was talking to me about two guys
from Fayetteville that wanted to do things, and he didn't want to do
INTERVIEWER: What did they want him to do?
KATHY GAITHER: They wanted to have a threesome. And I
said, "Well, you know, don't do it." I said, "Stay away from them." He said,
"Well, I give them rides because they were drunk and they couldn't get home.
And they won't leave me alone."
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] She remembers
Mullins lived in a trailer in Fayetteville, and Butler frequently stayed
KATHY GAITHER: I want to see them face to face, eye to
eye. I want them to tell me the truth.
Dr. HENRY ADAMS, Psychologist, Univ. of Georgia
(Emeritus): I suspect this guy was sexually aroused to his victim. What he
was doing was essentially punishing the victim for the impulses that he had
FORREST SAWYER: Henry Adams, psychologist and
professor emeritus at the University of Georgia, says people like Steve Mullins
demonstrate the most intense and violent kind of homophobia: that which is
Dr. HENRY ADAMS: It might be a pocket description of a
homophobe, someone who has this kind of arousal, is ashamed of it, does not want
anybody to know about it, and gets angry as they can be when someone instigates
his sexual arousal.
FORREST SAWYER: In the early 1900s, Sigmund Freud
introduced the theory that people who hate homosexuals are actually repressing
their own homoerotic desires. In 1995, Henry Adams decided to test Freud's
idea. Adams only included men in this study because, he says, it's usually
homophobia in males that produces violence. First he measured the intensity of
the participants' negative feelings toward gays. Based on their responses, he
divided them into two groups: homophobic and non-homophobic.
GRADUATE STUDENT: OK, we're going to show you a couple
FORREST SAWYER: Adams and two graduate students
demonstrate how the study was conducted.
GRADUATE STUDENT: If the video arouses you, let it
arouse you. If not, then don't. I want you to put this on, about half-way down
FORREST SAWYER: With a measuring gauge around his
penis, the participant watches heterosexual, lesbian and gay male sex
Dr. HENRY ADAMS: He's losing the erection. Coming
FORREST SAWYER: In the next room, Adams records the
subject's sexual response. Adams says the findings suggest Freud was
Dr. HENRY ADAMS: That's what we found in our study, is
that guys who hate gays, who are homophobic, in fact respond to homosexual
FORREST SAWYER: But Adams did not tell that to the
people in the study.
Dr. HENRY ADAMS: I should have asked them straight up,
"Are you aware of the fact that you've got some homosexual arousal?" We didn't
do that. We should have because one of the big issues in this study is, so
you've demonstrated that they've got homosexual arousal. Are they aware of it
or are they not? If Freud was right, they're not aware of it. In other words,
it's repressed, and this kind of thing. I'm not quite sure I believe that. I
think they are aware of it, and they don't like it in themselves.
ANNE AULEB: I think a lot of people have same-sex
sexual feelings. It's not at all uncommon for teenagers to become involved in
same-sex behavior, which later they may or may not continue.
FORREST SAWYER: Biologist Anne Auleb is in the Human
Sexuality Department of San Francisco State University.
ANNE AULEB: And for a lot of people when they're
afraid of their own feelings, they project it off onto somebody else, and
they're going to hurt that person.
FORREST SAWYER: [on camera] You're saying that
almost literally- that they, by beating up on a gay person, feel they might be
beating their own feelings out of themselves?
ANNE AULEB: Well, they're proving they're not like
MICHAEL KIMMEL: To be gay upsets the natural gender
order of things. There's a kind of psychological symmetry to men liking women
and women liking men. And to have that disrupted destroys- it sort of throws
the cosmos into a kind of chaos. I think a lot of people are terrified of
CRAIG KIRKPATRICK, Ph.D., Anthropologist and Evolutionary
Biologist: Each one of us inside has elements of masculinity and elements
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Craig Kirkpatrick
is an evolutionary biologist who has studied homosexuality in a number of human
societies. He says the way it is practiced in the United States today is very
different from other cultures.
CRAIG KIRKPATRICK: Typically, homosexuality exists
alongside heterosexuality. Most people who show homosexual behavior are
bisexual. But what happens in the United States is that we don't have the
option of bisexuality. We make it into and either/or choice, you are either
homosexual or heterosexual, you must make a choice, when in real life isn't that
FORREST SAWYER: It also was not clear-cut in many
ancient societies in which sex between men was often an expression of status and
power, a concept that survives even today.
CRAIG KIRKPATRICK: In some societies, such as Brazil,
the person who is the active partner or the inserter partner doesn't even see
themselves as homosexual. It's the insertee who actually is
MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: The problem is not whether you have
sex with a man or a woman, but what sex act is done to whom, if you are the
penetrated or if you are the penetrator. To be the penetrated is to be the
woman- that is to say, to take the feminine position or the female position.
And so gay men who are in this sense penetrated are seen as women or feminine,
less than real men. But men who penetrate other men are seen as
Their masculinity doesn't depend on the gender of the person
they have sex with. It depends on the fact that they are penetrating another
person. Now, that's a very different way of thinking about sexuality than ours.
To be penetrated is to be feminized. To be feminized is to no longer be a man.
To no longer be a man means you're sort of off the scale of sort of male-male
FORREST SAWYER: That hierarchy of sexual dominance is
part of prison life, and at 5 feet, 3 inches tall, Charles Butler is terrified
of being feminized by bigger and stronger inmates.
CHARLES BUTLER: Oh, yeah. I'll be in
FORREST SAWYER: And you know that you're going to have
to take care of yourself, right?
CHARLES BUTLER: Yes, sir. There's no doubt about
that. I've already seen dozens of gay men, you know. And they don't think too
well of what they've heard, you know? And they look pretty mean and ugly
theirselves, you know? And there's people in here, you know, they just, like,
try and run over a smaller man.
FORREST SAWYER: And you've got to think about
CHARLES BUTLER: Guess so.
FORREST SAWYER: Because that's your life,
CHARLES BUTLER: Guess so.
FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Steve Mullins
says he has no doubt that he is heterosexual, despite his reported sexual
experiences with other men.
STEVE MULLINS: [ABC News "20/20"] I can
respect their- you know, them being gay as long as they could respect me as
FORREST SAWYER: Both killers are serving life
sentences for the murder of Billy Jack Gaither. Like every other inmate,
they've been given Bibles to read. Mullins says the Bible has bolstered his
conviction that homosexuality is wrong. He says he has found peace, but his
victim will not.
STEVE MULLINS: [ABC News "20/20"] God forgives
for everything. If you ask, you shall receive. And I asked for forgiveness,
and that's what I got. I repented. He's in hell because he's a homosexual and
it tells you in the New Testament that that's wrong.
FORREST SAWYER: Romans, Chapter 1, Verse 27. The
Apostle Paul writes, "The men leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in
their lust one toward another, men with men."
Rev. JERRY FALWELL: I believe with all my heart the
Bible is the infallible word of God. And I therefore believe that whatever it
says is so.
FORREST SAWYER: For Fundamentalists like the Reverend
Jerry Falwell, the Bible is God's word, even though it was written by
Rev. JERRY FALWELL: Men wrote as God dictated it
through them. Forty men wrote and recorded the Scripture. The Holy Spirit was
the author, and every word of God is therefore pure.
DANIEL HELMINIAK, Ph.D., Author, "What the Bible Really
Says...": [in class] The literal approach is easy. Do not
underestimate the importance of that. People do not-
FORREST SAWYER: But former Catholic priest and author
Daniel Helminiak says the Bible's message has been corrupted by mistranslations.
He cites Romans, Chapter 1, Verse 26. "God gave them up unto vile affections,
for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against
DANIEL HELMINIAK: [in class] In the Greek,
para physin [sp?], "nature," "beyond nature." And so if you read Paul in
his terms, that word really should be translated "atypical," "unusual,"
FORREST SAWYER: Helminiak believes fundamentalists
actually misinterpret the Bible by taking it literally. He says one must first
understand that in the ancient societies for which the Bible was written,
sexuality was a matter of male power and privilege.
DANIEL HELMINIAK: The Romans, they had a hierarchy,
and whoever was at the very top could have sex with all the women. They could
have sex with men who were of another class, but not somebody of their same
class, and certainly with the slaves and anybody who wasn't a citizen. And it
was like was a pecking order.
ROBERT GOSS, Ph.D., Theologian, Webster Univ.:
Homosexuality is a modern invention. And there was no one in the ancient world
that thought themselves heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual. That's
FORREST SAWYER: A former Jesuit priest, Robert Goss is
head of the Department of Religious Studies at Webster University in St.
ROBERT GOSS: When we look at, for instance, Leviticus
18, where it says if man sleeps with a man like a woman, it's an abomination and
he should be put to death, the question for me is- and that really needs to be
highlighted is "like a woman." The issue is a betrayal of a male, is betraying
his status and privilege in society and becoming like a female.
Rev. JERRY FALWELL: The fact that men argue with
interpretation of what the Bible clearly says is understandable. If I were
doing something that the Bible condemns, I have two choices. One is to
straighten up my act, or the other is to somehow distort and twist and change
the meaning of the Bible. I can't allow both to stay in place.
FORREST SAWYER: It is an endless argument, fiery
enough to turn the funeral of the murdered Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard,
into a battleground, those who came to mourn him against those who came to
FRED PHELPS, Protester: I'm here to make my point!
I'm at war with the devil! I'm in a war against sin!
Rev. JERRY FALWELL: Anybody who goes to a funeral of a
little boy who's dead, and his parents are looking at a big placard Fred Phelps
puts up saying "Matt is in hell," is either mean as the devil or a nut case.
Either way, he doesn't represent anybody credible.
FORREST SAWYER: This, Falwell says, is taking the
rhetoric of the Christian right too far.
Rev. JERRY FALWELL: I began to see that the level of
hostility on both sides had reached a point where it is very volatile. We've
got to reach the hearts of people to stop it.
FORREST SAWYER: One weekend last October, Falwell
invited 200 gays and lesbians from the group Soulforce to his own Thomas Road
Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. It was an attempt by both groups to find
common ground in spite of their differences. And it, too, drew
Rev. JERRY FALWELL: [at meeting] We are aware
of Matt Shepard and Billy Jack Gaither and gay and lesbian persons who have been
physically assaulted because of who they are.
MEL WHITE, Soulforce: Religious rhetoric kills
people when it's anti-gay. This is a quote from Matthew Williams, one of the
killers of that wonderful gay couple in Sacramento just several months ago. "I
had to obey God's law, rather than man's law. My brother and I are in jail for
our work in cleansing a sick society. I just plan to defend myself from the
Scriptures." That's a smoking gun.
FORREST SAWYER: Joining Falwell at the meeting was the
head of Soulforce and his long-time friend, Mel White. White used to be
Falwell's ghost writer until he publicly announced his homosexuality.
Rev. JERRY FALWELL: Three years ago, he came here, to
this office here, spent the day with me to try one more time to convince me the
Bible approves the behavior. At the end of the day, he had failed, and we made
an agreement: "From here on out, you know that I believe that homosexuality is
a sin, but I like you." [www.pbs.org: Read the full interview]
FORREST SAWYER: Their meeting last October was not a
complete success, in part because Falwell had also invited ex-gays, people who
have repented from what he calls the sin of homosexuality.
Rev. JERRY FALWELL: We wanted a little more respect
from them towards former gays, ex-gays, who have come out of the lifestyle and
who are saying publicly that "Just as we chose into the lifestyle, we can choose
out." To practice sexually anything other than the heterosexual lifestyle for
which God created and made us is to go against God's plan. And very frankly, it
has to be a choice.
CRAIG KIRKPATRICK, Ph.D., Anthropologist and Evolutionary
Biologist: Sexuality isn't a choice. Sexuality is something that we feel
for another person. It's not something we decide on. At another level, there
are elements of choice in sexual behavior. We do decide which men or which
women we will have sex with.
FORREST SAWYER: But changing one's sexual behavior is
extremely difficult, as both Billy Jack and Kathy Gaither found out. To please
their parents, they tried to become heterosexuals.
KATHY GAITHER: I got engaged at one time. He got
engaged. But we weren't true to our hearts, you know? You know, we wanted the
family's respect. We'd do anything we could to make sure that they knew, "Hey,
we love you."
It was very hard living a lie. You know, Billy tried several
times. I didn't. I tried once, and I said, "I can't do it," because I knew for
years, you know, this is me. "I love you all, but I just- I've got to be me."
But Billy tried several times.
FORREST SAWYER: In Sylacauga, the Gaither family is
well-known and respected. They are religious, believing the Bible to be the
word of God. Over the years, they struggled with homosexuality and the meaning
of sin, perhaps Billy Jack most of all.
KATHY GAITHER: There is a part in there about man with
man, you know? He says, "How do I deal with that?" I says, "Well, you got a
preacher. Talk with your preacher." You know, "That's the best I can tell you.
It does say that," you know? And he said, "Well, Daddy's told me-" and I said,
"I know." I said, "But you talk to the man upstairs. He'll give you the
answers." So I guess he gave Billy the answers.
RICKY GAITHER: I believe a person, just because
they're gay, I don't think they should be condemned to hell, you know? I don't.
But I'm not God, so I don't know. I mean, but I try to understand why, because
of my brother and my sister. I'd like to see them in heaven. And I think they
will be. I really do.
FORREST SAWYER: Billy Jack's parents take the
Commandment "Thou shalt not kill" seriously. They asked that their son's
murderers be spared the death penalty.
MARION HAMMOND: Was justice done? Yeah, because if
you knew Billy Jack, you'd say, "Yeah," because the family didn't want the death
penalty. So yeah, it was done. And Billy Jack wouldn't want it, either. I
could understand why they done that.
FORREST SAWYER: Sylacauga is still not an easy place
to be openly gay, but Billy Jack Gaither did make it more tolerant.
MARION HAMMOND: Well, I have two sons, and it's opened
my eyes that one day they might- might have been gay. Well, I don't believe
they are, but if they was, I could live with it. I could live with it, when one
day I might have cried for three hours or more. But I could live with
Yeah, he taught me that it just happens. It's nothing you do.
It's nobody's fault. It's just the way you are.
A FRONTLINE coproduction with
Turn of River Films, LLC
WGBH EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED