billy jack
a gay gene?
the bible
cultural context
assault on gay america


FRONTLINE 1811K "Assault on Gay America"
Air Date: February 15, 2000

Assault on Gay America: The Life and Death of Billy Jack

Written, Produced and Directed by Claudia Pryor Malis

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 like?

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?


FORREST SAWYER: He wasn't flamboyant. He just was-

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 toward you.


FORREST SAWYER: And what did he say, exactly?

CHARLES BUTLER: The onliest thing that sticks in my mind is about the threesome, you know. That's, you know- that's really the onliest thing.

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 disrespecting you?


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 it?

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 did?

FORREST SAWYER: Did he start grabbing you and-

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, right?


FORREST SAWYER: So tell me why that's disrespect.

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.

CHARLES BUTLER: You don't think so?

FORREST SAWYER: Kicking him did what for you?

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 neck.

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 happened?

CHARLES BUTLER: Hell, no. Why would I want to ask him what happened?

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.


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 point?

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 thinking?

CHARLES BUTLER: I don't know. I really don't know.

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 ride?


FORREST SAWYER: Didn't say a word to each other?



CHARLES BUTLER: Because I didn't want to wind up like Billy.

NEWS REPORTER: When gay college student Matthew Shepard was left to die alone on a fence post after being brutally beaten, it triggered-

FORREST SAWYER: [voice-over] Six months before Billy Jack was killed, the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming had captured the country's attention.

NEWS REPORTER: Army Private Calvin Glover confessed to the killing of a fellow soldier last July, a soldier widely believed to be gay.

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 Matson-

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 gays.

STUDENT: [GLSEN video] That's so gay!


STUDENT: You faggot!

STUDENT: So you're a queer, aren't you?



STUDENT: Faggot!

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 them.

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"?

STUDENT: Strong.

MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: Strong. OK. What does it mean, "Be a man"?

STUDENT: Dominance.


STUDENT: Don't show emotion.

MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: Don't show emotion. Anything else?

STUDENT: Be tough.

MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: Tough. OK, strong, fearless, tough.

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.


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 talker.

FORREST SAWYER: Didn't take any grief from other men?


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?


MICHAEL KIMMEL: [in class] What words are likely to be used to describe you if you are not perceived as being in this box?

STUDENT: A girly man.


STUDENT: A faggot.



MICHAEL S. KIMMEL: Wus. OK. What else?

STUDENT: A queer.


STUDENT: A 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, you know?

FORREST SAWYER: So you've had gay friends?


FORREST SAWYER: It's not that you mind gay people.

CHARLES BUTLER: No, sir. It's not at all.

FORREST SAWYER: But, you went to gay clubs.


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 want.

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 talk, exactly?

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 designer.

STUDENT: More open, I guess, to do what a woman would do with another woman, as far as talking about how they feel about things.

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 masculinity.

[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 about you.

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 you."

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 boys.

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 underdog.

FORREST SAWYER: As an adult, Billy Jack's prized possession was a Gone With the Wind doll collection, which he kept in his bedroom.

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 know?

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 yourself."

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 home."

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 there.

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 anything.

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 friend.

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 lie, too.

FORREST SAWYER: So he never said any of that to you.


FORREST SAWYER: That was all fabricated.


FORREST SAWYER: He never said nothing to you about Billy Jack?


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 sympathy.

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 gone.

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 gone.

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 custody.

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 him?

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 secret.

[on camera] And so the killing was a cover-up.


FORREST SAWYER: Is that what you really think?

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 it.

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 there.

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 himself.

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 internalized.

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 videos.

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 your penis.

FORREST SAWYER: With a measuring gauge around his penis, the participant watches heterosexual, lesbian and gay male sex scenes.

Dr. HENRY ADAMS: He's losing the erection. Coming down.

FORREST SAWYER: In the next room, Adams records the subject's sexual response. Adams says the findings suggest Freud was right.

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 activity.

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 that

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 it.

CRAIG KIRKPATRICK, Ph.D., Anthropologist and Evolutionary Biologist: Each one of us inside has elements of masculinity and elements of femininity.

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 clear-cut.

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 homosexual.

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 masculine.

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 relationships

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 population.

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 that.


FORREST SAWYER: Because that's your life, right?


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 being straight.

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 men.

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 nature."

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," "unexpected."

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 alien.

FORREST SAWYER: A former Jesuit priest, Robert Goss is head of the Department of Religious Studies at Webster University in St. Louis.

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 condemn.

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 protesters.

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 it.

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

Copyright 2000

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