home
billy jack
homophobia
a gay gene?
the bible
cultural context
discussion
interviewsassault on gay america

charles butler

photo of charles butler
Sometimes described as Steven Mullins' "sidekick," and always referred to as small and boyish, Charles Monroe Butler was shooting pool with his dad at a bar when Steven Mullins approached him to take a ride into the Alabama woods. Did Butler know that the mission that night was to kill the other passenger, Billy Jack Gaither? He says he didn't know. Mullins says he did. This interview was conducted in the Kilby Prison, Alabama.
Before the night of the crime, had you ever heard of Billy Jack Gaither?

No, sir. . .

Let's talk about what happened. Can you do that?

I reckon it started when me and Daddy had gotten off work. We had entered in this pool tournament. I'd played maybe two games, and Steve, he'd come in, and he asked me if I wanted to go to The Tavern with him. I told him that I was engaged in this pool tournament. He said, "I'll be back in a while." So he went on. I reckon they went to The Tavern, and I went on playing my games. They came back, and he come in and asked me if I was ready to go, and I said, "Sure." So, we're going out, and apparently a fight had broken out right there at The Tavern. Steve had some old warrants on him from Sylacauga, and so he didn't want to go there. So instead, we go out to the Watersheds--this little public place where everybody goes out to have a good time. But it wound up different. Billy Jack started talking about some gay issues. . . . wanting to have a threesome, or whatever. Tempers flared up. Steve jumped on him, and cut his throat there . .

You're saying Billy Jack basically hit on you, right?

Yes.

And you kicked him. Why?

I don't know. I'd been drinking a lot whiskey, and just didn't have no understanding . . . I didn't even know the man, for him to be hitting on me. . . . Tempers just flared. It's like he didn't have no respect.

He was disrespecting you?

Yes.

How?

Well, sir, I don't know. It's not like I'm some gay tramp out there, waiting to be corn-holed by some prick.

So if a woman had done that to you, that wouldn't be disrespect?

No, sir, I don't reckon so.

Why is it disrespect if a man does it?

Well, sir, why would he want to just assume that I was gay, just like himself, and throw himself on me like he did?

Did he start grabbing you?

No sir, he didn't start grabbing at me. Nothing like that.

He just asked you? It was just words, right? If a woman did that, you'd think, "That's pretty cool"?

Yes sir, I reckon so.

But he's a man, and he did it, so it's disrespect. Why?

Would you like for a gay man to hit on you? Would you like for him to engage you into a threesome? How would you feel?

I don't think I would kick him, Charles. What did kicking him did what for you?

Didn't do a whole lot of nothing. Didn't do no good, that's for sure.

But you were clearly angry. What about it made you angry? What had he done?

Well, sir. . . I don't think I needed to kick him. I don't reckon he deserved that.

I want you to know, I'm not judging anything. I'm just trying to understand it. One thing that might help is to understand what that feeling is. When he came on to you, that was bad? That crossed a line?

Yes.

What was the line that he crossed? What had he done?

. . . I couldn't remember what his exact words was. I don't know. Hell, I don't know.

You were pissed, flat-out pissed. Right?

I reckon.

At what?

At him coming on to me. It's just stupidity, I guess.

No, no, no. It's just a feeling, like any other feeling. He had made you--

Uncomfortable, I reckon.

And not a man--he was trying to make you not a man?

No. I don't think anybody could ever do that. . .

When you were growing up, were there gay people around?

Yes, sir. I had one friend in particular. He's lived with us several times, such as Steve himself. Steve even lived around him, and knew him as long as I have, if not longer. I've been to gay clubs with him, and all that. But we had an understanding from this guy we met that we was friends, and we was only to be friends.

So you've had gay friends. It's not that you mind gay people.

No, sir. It's not at all.

Did you think less of gays?

No. No, sir. I don't they're think any less than I am or . . . I don't know. They're just the same old people. But I really never give it much thought.

But you went to gay clubs?

Yes.

Now Charles, if you go to a gay club, other men are going to look at you and say, "Well, he's here. I'm here. He must be gay."

No, sir. No such thing, especially when a fellow like me walks into a bar. My appearance alone sets me off.

You mean, you don't look gay?

That's right.

So if you went to a gay bar, nobody would know that . . .

I reckon. The numerous times I've been to a gay club, nobody's ever hit on me. I've had people come to our table and sit down and want to talk to me and such, but they never did lead off to a confrontation, or what have you. They just want to know who I am--just being friendly. . .

So your reaction to Billy Jack then seems extreme. It seems you would be a little sympathetic to him. . . . So something had to snap in you that night, right?

Yes.

Have you thought about what that was?

No, sir. I ain't never really thought about it. Never.

You thought that he disrespected you.

Yes.

I'm trying to get what that means, for a man to disrespect another man in that way.

I don't know, man. It's hard to explain it, I guess. I don't know.

Are you a Christian?

I wouldn't call myself a Christian. But I am a believer of God, and I never have forsaken him. And I've tried to follow in the right steps. I know I've not always been faithful for him.

None of us has. But were you raised in the church, or a Christian?

I went to church regular when I was young. Yes, sir. But I generally grew apart from it, I've went off and on ever since then--never was firmly grounded in a church.

So you didn't study the Bible or that sort of thing, like some people did?

No, sir. No, sir.

There are at least some folks who say that homosexuality is wrong, and that they can show you that in the Bible. Have you talked to folks like that?

Yes.

What do you think of that?

Well, sir, it's a sin. I never really give it much thought. I don't know whether it's . . . just because it's a sin to be gay, don't mean a gay person is like Satan himself. . . . They're just as good-hearted as anybody else. You wouldn't think of them as being sinners.

But their lifestyle is a sin?

Yes. . .

How come you'd go to gay clubs?

On account of my friend, Steve Edwards. First time I went, it was me, my brother, my sister-in-law, and Steve Edwards. We'd all go and, hell, I had a pretty good time, just getting out there. So Steve offered to go with me again, or invited me to go up there again with him. And I say, "Sure, why not?" I'd sit there, play pool, or sit up there and cut up with the bartender. . . .

What was the club like? Where was it?

It was right there in the midst of Birmingham. . . . They had the loud music going. It's more like a saloon music type of group in there. They had a little dance floor separate from the bar area. It was a nice place. Outside, they had a privacy fence around, with little tables and chairs and little canopies over the table, for a little private talk, whatever. It was an all-right club.

Was it just men? Or men and women?

There's women there, too. Men and women.

You say it was a gay club. Were the people who were there almost exclusively gay, or were there a mix of them?

No, there's straight people there. Anybody could come in there.

So if it was straight people and gay people, why is it a gay club?

Well, sir, I don't know. It's just what everybody called it.

Could you look at the men and tell which one was gay?

Some of them, yes, sir. It really was hard to tell which ones were the women.

Why was that hard to tell?

You had your drag queens. They looked just about like a woman.

That could make it dangerous for you?

Oh, yeah.

Did you ever hit on women at the club?

No, on account of I didn't know which ones were which. . .

Why do you think Steve Mullins jumped Billy Jack Gaither?

I don't know. I have no idea. I don't reckon he wanted his sex life to get out to anybody, on account of he's hiding--he's kept a secret from me for so long, so I don't reckon he wanted anybody else to know.

Was something going on between him and Billy Jack?

I reckon. There were rumors. One of Billy Jack's brothers stated in a newspaper that he knew that Billy and Steve was together. My attorney found another gay man that Steve was involved with. So I don't know. . . . My attorneys discovered that Steve is flat broke, and wanted some money in exchange for sex. He lured the both of us out there--promised him sex with the both of us. Instead, it just blew up in his face, and he just didn't know how to handle it. I don't know.

So the killing was a coverup?

I guess so. I don't know what to think. . . .

I'm curious about how you feel. It was Steve who attacked him, who beat him with the stick and killed him. What role do you feel you played?

I feel cheated. But I don't hold no hate for nobody, nor no grudge against nobody. I just feel cheated. . . .I'm torn away from my family on account of something someone else has done. I don't know.

Do you feel responsible at all?

I don't reckon I could have stopped him, or stopped what had happened. Should I feel responsible? . . .

I bet you've lived through what happened a thousand times. Do you have regrets?

Yes. I have dreams--nightmares--from time to time. But it's not like it was before. When it was first happening, things played back in my dreams. I'd have nightmares of Steve [Mullins] and us together again. . . I remember when we was at the trailer. Steve opened the trunk of that car, and Billy was laying there on his side. Blood was just covering half of his face . . . . It just sent something all up and down my back. And then, seeing Steve standing over him, beating him like he was. . . . I could feel every thump that went across his body. . . .It's like a never-ending story. It's like walking across a bed of glass. It's painful, every step.


home · billy jack ·  homophobia's roots ·  a gay gene? ·  the bible's words ·  cultural context
discussion ·  quiz ·  viewer's guide
press ·  tapes & transcripts ·  synopsis ·  FRONTLINE

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Losing IraqJuly 29th

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS