One small warning: Some of the responses to "Bill's Story" may contain words which are considered offensive to some people. The strong language comes from strong feelings, and in the context of what the writers are saying, I believe it is important. --- Gabi Clayton
Responses to "Bill's Story"
This started on June 26, 1996, with an e-mail from Steve Schalchlin, long before "Bill's Story" was written, or even thought about. Steve found my homepage and the dedication to Bill on it that you can still see there now, and he wrote:
I just found your home page and when I saw the picture of your son and story that went with it, I wept right here in the living room. I can't tell you how much it affected me, that someone so beautiful and obviously so loved by his mother would still be crushed by the hatred in this world. If only these bigots truly understood how much damage they cause.
I invite you to view my web site. I am a gay man living with AIDS and as part of my own struggle to survive, I have created this site the centerpiece of which is my on online diary where I detail what I'm living with. For some reason, people all over the world are being drawn to it and it has helped many people, especially many Christians to stop and think about what they do.
I appreciate you fight, dear lady, and I want you to know that I am in anguish over your loss. That you took this pain and turned it into a fight against hatred moves me and reminds me that there are great people out there. And you are a shining example.
...and so it began. I visited Steve Schalchlin's Survival Site and online diary, and there he showed me how the internet can be used to reach out to people in the very best of ways. Now, months later, "Bill's Story" is up, and it is beginning to take on a life of its own. The responses have been so touching and inspiring that I am starting this page as my way of sharing them with all of you. Please check back from time to time - I will be adding new letters. If you would like me to put your response to Bill's Story on this page, please let me know.
Gabi Clayton 10/18/96
October 15, 1996
Hi my name is Rob, and I am Sam's partner. You sent a message to Sam on my email address (which is quite OK since he doesn't have one yet!), and I will pass this on to him when I call him later this morning (I'm at work).
I read "Bill's Story", and found it to to be a very moving tribute, and written with so much love. If people allowed themselves to be as loving, and unjudgemental as you and your family are, this planet would be a much better place to be than it currently is.
I have never been a victim of a physical assault, but have had my share of it verbally while growing up. I don't know if it has to do with living in an area that "seems" to be more accepting of gays and lesbians (L.A.) or I have just been lucky. As I wrote that, I just realized how odd a thought! Being lucky for not having been assaulted! I guess the assaulters are not the only ones conditioned to such a thing.
I know that life is a constant challenge to learning new things, and treating people, all people, with respect is a must no matter who they may be. I know that until Sam contacted his birth mother Joanne, that she and her family thought gays were dispicable people because their church taught them to hate in such a way. Imagine, a supposedly loving entity teaching such a thing. No wonder people are fearful of things they don't know or understand firsthand.
Well, take care, and I will pass your message on to Sam. I know he'll want to reply, so expect another message soon!
October 20, 1996
Gabi, I finally got to visit your page - what a wonderful tribute to your son. Such a handsome, beautiful boy - it really choked me up and I admire you immensely for the work you are doing for our children.
Pat Belanger (email@example.com)
October 6, 1996
Wow. I read the story on Steve's page, and I cried... The first paragraph, in which you stated that Bill was caring, and seeing his picture. He looks like he had true heart. :o)
That he and his friends were attacked, that is a terrible thing. Me and my friend were attacked once also... We were punched in the face a few times, busted up a little. I was slapped in the ear and had some temporary damage. This happened when I was 16, about 5 years ago. It was a race related thing...
I want to add a link on my links page to the story. I want to have Bill's picture up also.. It says so much, I really feel like I know him. Hopefully some people will also get to meet Bill, the story portrays him so vividly. I'm going to copy the image and put it up. Stop by and see it at
Take care! I'm glad to have you as a friend. :o)
On October 16, 1996 Shawn wrote to Steve Schalchlin:
Yeah, Bill's story touched me too.
I am ALWAYS drawn to people who, for some reason or another, leave this world 'before their time'. Part of it is because so much of my destiny is built on the fact that I'm 'going out' in a tragic manner... Not necessarily AIDS-related, maybe a plane crash, however death ultimately presents itself I could care less, because I HAVE lived this life. I've conquered my fears, I've known what it is to be loved, and to love... That is the best. :o)
I bought a Rolling Stone magazine today that had Tupac Shakur on the cover, not because I was into his music, but because I wanted to know more about him as a human. This fascination with death puzzles me sometimes.... :o\
Hey, the interview RULES. I'm glad that you linked Bill's Story... did you catch my link in my Friend's section? I put it up immediately after I saw Gabi's page, I was SO touched by it... Man, it bums me out now, BILL should have been here to be with US... We need people like him to get the word out, to spread good vibes.. In the afterlife I'll find that guy and buy him a beer.
Note from Gabi - the interview Shawn mentioned is excellent. It is on Shawn's pages, and it is Shawn and Steve talking about living and surviving with AIDS/HIV. Recommended reading!
September 30, 1996
Subject: How can I possibly put a subject in here?
Oh Gabi- Bill's story is the saddest story. I am just so sorry, and I promise I will fight with you!
October 18, 1996
Thank you very, very much for sharing this with me. I've printed it out and am carrying a copy of it with me, in case I feel the need to share it with others.
Gabi, you are fortunate to have had a son like Bill, even for such a brief time. What a boy he was! And what fine parents you are. You gave him all the support in the world, all the love you had, and he should have had a long, blessed life.
Sometimes I forget the evil that still exists in this world. I have been the victim of hate from time to time, but never a hate crime. I keep thinking that things are getting better, but they're not very good when people can do what they did to Bill.
I'm crying again as I think about his life and yours. I'm also very uplifted by the wonderful things he did and that you continue to do. My words cannot express my sorrow at your loss, our loss. Even in his death, I have learned from Bill. And I am grateful that you are making life on earth better for all of us. You have my total respect and admiration.
October 11, 1996
I just want to tell you that the page on Bill is a tribute to not only him but your love for him and your love of peace, and just love itself.
It has touched me through and through, and I shall direct others who knew him to this site.
I can only say I'm crying as I type this... the memory of Bill is good; thanks for that... well done.... it has added even more fuel to my drive for acceptance and an end to bigotry where ever I may encounter it.
Bless you, Alec, Noel.
October 22, 1996
I have heard alot about you from Steve Schalchlin and I think that he has shared advice with both of us about losing a loved one. I just lost a beloved uncle (who, like your husband, was also a fantastic abstract artist) 2 weeks ago and Steve really helped me through the whole thing. It has been difficult and I have so much empathy for you and your family for their loss.
I am a mother of a two year old and when I read Bill's story, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I can't imagine what it must have been like for you to see your child go through that kind of pain, and to ultimately end his life because of it - I am so impressed that you have not gotten lost in bitterness because I don't know that I wouldn't if someone took my child from me simply because he was different - it scares me to think about what kind of world I am bringing my child up in when even a love as strong as the one that your family and friends obviously had for Bill could not protect him. I shudder at the thought.
It is strange how my life has changed in the past year - before then I didn't even know anyone who was gay or who was dealing with these type of issues, but since meeting Steve, it seems my whole world has opened up. I, being an intelligent individual (at least I thought), was always aware of the bigotry and close-mindedness that permeates this nation, but I guess it had never hit home with me until MY friends and MY loved ones were the targets of these insanely perverted assaults on their characters, and even their bodies. And I certainly never thought until I became friends with Steve that AIDS/HIV had anything to do with my life - now I realize that it has to do with all of us, and until we realize this, many of our brothers and sisters and friends will be the victims of such hateful acts as the one that Bill was a victim of. It is my group (Sigma Tau Delta) that is sponsoring Steve's performance at Old Dominion University in Virginia -- I am just so thrilled at the prospect of so many people getting to hear and see Steve talk and sing-- about hope, about love, about acceptance - I just wish that I could fill the audience with a bunch of Ralph Reed's novitiates! They are perhaps one of the groups that need to hear Steve's message the most.
Well, Gabi, I am thrilled to know you. I wish that I had had an opportunity to know Bill. I ache for the loss of you and your husband and your other son. You honor Bill with your words and your fight -- and as Steve says, we must continue to FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT!
With Love and Sympathy,
Gabi here. I wrote her back, and wanted to share part of what I said:
Tracey, I fight the bitterness every day, and sometimes I even lose for a while. But I am stronger than I ever could have imagined, I guess. I'm still here and I don't want your son or any one else's to face what Bill had to face. Knowing that telling his story reaches people and lets them know how very critical it is to stop the hate is why I do it. It's either that or crawl into a hole, and I'm not ready for that yet. I think I'm a long way from that - with a lot of help and love and support from so very many wonderful people. That has been the most amazing gift from all this - the people who have been there for us and the people I have met and continue to meet...
And on October 23, 1996, Tracey wrote:
Hi again Gabi,
You can definitely post my letter - if it would help to reach just one person I would be thrilled - I know I can't be the only person who is worried about the world our children inherit when we don't take great strides to end ignorance and hate. You know, the funny thing about hate, is that it does as much damage to the person doing the hating that it does to the person who is hated - it can eat you up inside and become the focus in life when there are so many more beautiful things that this life has to offer.
October 20, 1996
Thank you for sharing your son's story with the world. I wish you peace and love and hope that you will always derive comfort in your son's memory. It is the responsibility of us all to to open our hearts and to help dispell people's misconceptions of anyone that does not fit into the narrow little boxes we have all contributed in creating. I do believe that we can peacefully and respectfully co-exist, but we all have to be as brave as you, and speak out about the hatred and prejudice that infests our society.
God Bless you and your family,
Marci Geller (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When I wrote Marci back, I said: I also still believe we can peacefully and respectfully co-exist, but I don't think it's going to be an easy road. I hope we get there - we all deserve it.
October 23, 1996
It is wonderful to make some good out of something really bad... By telling people his story, you can prevent future violence and needless suffering. Someday, the earth will be a peaceful place to live. :)
People who use GLBT children and people as scapegoats do so, in my opinion because they are the last group one can publicly spew hurtful speech at. This leads to a climate of hatred and intolerance, and ultimately culminates in violence and suicide. Other problems facing GLBT children include low self-esteem which leads to substance abuse and unsafe sexual practices. GLBT people are the "niggers" and "Jude" of the 90's. I hold Pat Robertson and his rogues gallery personally responsilbe for Bill's death.
Please excuse my rantings, but this issue really gets me upset... What kind of planet that claims to be so "civilized" treats its fellow beings so callously??? Let's all work towards a kinder and gentler future...
Children's Animated Television
October 15, 1996
Thank you so much for your wonderful page, and for sharing the story of your son, Bill. I am (almost) eighteen and I am a founder and president of the gay rights club in my school. Tomorrow is our second meeting, and I plan on sharing your story with my club so that his memory is kept alive...and so it
may slightly decrease the chances of it happening again. Again, I thank you, and send you all the strength and hope in the world. Take Care...
Melanie Altarescu (MelaniRuth@aol.com)
October 1, 1996
I just got done reading Bill's story over on Steve's diary page.
Your son had courage!
And so, I see, do you.
Not having had a child I do not know the joys and pains of being a parent, cannot come close to imagining them. I therefore cannot begin to fathom the pain you felt at Bill's death. Bill's hell was a public one that exposed him to dangers far beyond what most kids could've endured for long, if not for the love and support he got from home he probably wouldn't have made it to the coming out point, let
alone all the turmoil he faced as a bisexual boy.
Please allow me to thank you for your work with PFLAG. Though I know you'd be doing it anyway, not just for the catharsis, not just for the memory of Bill, but for the "Bills" and "Robs" and "Karens" and "Steves" yet to come out, yet to be ushered into this hatefilled world surrounded by loving people who can and do accept people for the sake of them being people, human beings who have so much to give and share and love.
Slowly, one heart at a time, the world is changing...Imagine a day when a boy can say to Mom and Dad, "Umm...Mom, Dad...I'm gay", and the folks say, "Why don't you invite that boyfriend you've been keeping time with over for dinner?"
Some may have held in the hearts that Bill was afraid to live. But I see that he lived fully his seventeen years and was more of a man than the ones who need to hate to feel that they are alive, the ones taught to trod upon the hearts of the different and the loving.
The world spins a bit slower each day. Each day the light is allowed to shine a bit deeper in someone's heart.
Thank you so very much for sharing with us your son, whose life now graces the stars.
Rob Momper (email@example.com)
October 1, 1996
I found your son (Bill's) story through a link on Steve Schalchin's On-Line Diary. I want you to know, that as I sit here with tears rolling down my face, that I am SO incredibly angry! As a gay man, I have felt the intolerance that is diplayed by most of mainstream America. I have experienced the discrimination, and I have witnessed the pure hatred that is shown to all of us who are "different". Your son's life was taken as the result of that intolerance and hatred, and I'm so incredibly angry at that. What is it going to take for America to wake up and realize that we are not any different than them? We have the same hopes, desires, dreams, and fears that they have. We are not some monstrous attempt to proseletyze them or their children!
Your son's murder (yes, I feel that it WAS indeed a murder, and that the perpetrators are both the bigoted people who look upon us with fear and hatred, as well as those who just stand by and watch), has re-ignited a fire in me that was just recently doused. I am the moderator of the l/g/b/t section of our local free-net. I recently approached the coordinator of the free-net to ask for permission to place a "Teen-Alternative Lifestyle" folder in the "Teen Center" area of the free-net. I was told that I could leave it in my (Rainbow) area, but could not put it in another area (with better availability for teens). All I want to do with this folder is to provide information from P-FLAG and other organizations that would help some teens in our community to accept themselves and realize that their feelings are validated. I keep trying to point out that "if ONE teen can find this helpful, we may have saved ONE teen's life"! They are afraid, that because some parents don't even want their children to have access to "Rainbow" (isn't it amazing how some parents have such "conditional love"??), that they will pull completely off the system, and not support the system financially any longer!! I was feeling very discouraged, and had given up the battle, but now am encouraged to continue the war! Thank you for that!
Also, I am going to be in Washington D.C. on National Coming Out Day (I will actually be there for the Names Project Memorial Quilt display, but it happened to fall on the same weekend!) and am planning on contacting the National P-FLAG office to see what I can do to take part in the activities of that day.
Please know that I deeply appreciate your efforts with P-FLAG, and the loving acceptance and understanding that you had with Bill. I can only wish that more parents were like you. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers...
Randy B. Kilbourn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
September 17, 1996
Note from Gabi... this letter is very special for me to have here - it was written by my best friend Catherine and was read as part of GLSTN's second annual "Back to School Night" in Seattle on September 20, 1996. It was addressed to the principal of Bill's high school. GLSTN is The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Teachers Network.
I live with the Clayton family. I am not mother, wife, partner, daughter, aunt or cousin in this family. I am sometimes referred to as second-mom, sister, housemate, or family friend -- I am all of these. Family is defined by those within it, who choose to love and care for each other. My name is Catherine and I am Lesbian.
Last year our family suffered a devastating loss -- we lost Bill. Bill was seventeen when he took his life. To understand a little about how he felt before he took his life you would have to know that he had been viciously assaulted by four youth because he was bisexual and because he was out.
Previously, the town had been full of talk about gay issues and the local paper had published a forum of letters to the editor about whether a distinguished lesbian, Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, should be allowed to speak about women's history in Bill's high school. One of the school board meetings was attended by hundreds of students, parents and community members to debate the legitimacy of having a lesbian speaker in the school. To my knowledge this was the first open forum about gay issues in this high school.
When Bill came out three years earlier, I asked him if there were any support groups on campus, or any other kids who were out, or any indication that the counselors or administrators were gay-friendly, or any posters stating that this high school was safe for gay/lesbian/bisexuals, or any denunciation of discrimination against gay/lesbian/bisexual people in the student handbook. He didn't know of anything like that.
So, three years later, when the town heated up over gay issues, the intensity of it came as a shock and as a challenge to Bill and to many of us in this community. Bill could not understand why some people were so vehemently hateful towards gay people. He didn't understand how they translated so much meanness from their bibles. He had never felt such a forceful wave of hatred. And he, like so many others of us in this community felt it very personally.
Less than three weeks later, I met Bill at the hospital after the assault. His body was scraped, bruised and bloodied and his eyes were filled with anguish. He grabbed and hung on to me. On that day, we joined the thousands of other people who have suffered the senseless brutality and the twisted hatefulness of the entrenched anti-gay mentality in this country.
Bill, like other youth his age was exploring his identity, trying to prepare himself for the near future, for the end of high school, for college, for relationships, for transitioning into the adult world. What he saw coming, based on his experiences, was more of the same harassment and hatred. He had not yet gathered all of the tools necessary for survival in such an atmosphere.
The basic signs of acceptance and support for youth who are lesbian/gay/bisexual are not obvious in the schools and in the communities. We are the subject of national debate from the White House to the playgrounds. Are we real or are we figments of our own imagination? Are we an abomination to society or are we valued contributors? Do we have the right to love who we choose and have our unions of love sanctioned by society? Are we human being enough to work without discrimination, pay our taxes with the same deductions as other Americans, risk our lives in service to our country without fear of being banished by our own people if we dare admit that we are gay or lesbian or bisexual? As children and young adults, are we not human being enough to be granted safe passage in our schools, respect for our differences, acknowledgment of our accomplishments, and hope for a bright future?
For parents, teachers, school administrators, community leaders who seek answers to improve our schools and offer bright futures to all of our youth, we cannot leave lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered youth out of the "all" equation. There were isolated individuals in Bill's school, Olympia High, who stood by him and other students, but they should not have to stand alone as sole providers of support. Please lend your support to the efforts of the students, parents, teachers and community members who are working to make schools safe and supportive for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered youth.
The fabric of our community -- of caring for ourselves, each other and our children as if each person mattered today and for many tomorrows -- is still being woven. Bill loved to sew. He sewed with my grandmother's machine and like her, purple was his favorite color. Maybe they have found each other in the great beyond.
October 25, 1996
I have always felt that the dead are honored not by our tears but by our actions. You must be very proud of what you are doing to honor Bill's life. I'm sure he's smiling down on you right now.
Even though Bill wasn't able to cope with the madness how much worse would things have been had he not had the loving support of his family!
It is very courageous for you to post this story on the internet. I am continually amazed and dismayed by the hatred and intolerance I find on the web and hope that those hate mongers haven't found your site to rail at you. Please know that there are many of us out here who are with you and who are working towards bringing about a society where lives like Bill's are cherished and valued. He was a beautiful young man from a beautiful family.
October 25, 1996
I just wanted to send a brief message to tell you how moved I was by 'Bill's Story.' I really would feel clumsy expressing anything else, you put it so well yourself- except that Bill couldn't have wished for more loving and caring parents than he so obviously had.
David Horne (email@example.com)
October 27, 1996
I stumbled on your page while researching the PFLAG sites before updating our local page. I read Bill's story and tears came to my eyes (and that doesn't happen much). How can this world treat someone so gentle and special with such hatred. What drives people to assault another person for who they are? I was filled with sadness, then frustration and then resolve. I realized that there are many others like Bill, unique and special in there own way and subject to the same abuses. Thank you for the kick in the pants.
As a gay man in the "buckle" of the Bible belt I am all too aware of the danger that living life honestly can present. We have searched for a way to help the youth who are dealing with their own sexuality without bringing the inevitable accusations of "recruitment" or worse. It is because of people like Bill that we must keep trying. The Internet has been associated with many negatives lately, mainly for political gain. Your site shows how one person's life can touch so many and, perhaps, even help someone through the same despair. Bill's stay here may have been brief, but his life could do more good than others who hang around many decades.
David R (firstname.lastname@example.org)
October 29, 1996
Steve Schalchlin sent me a letter from Don Kirkpatrick this morning:
The responses on Gabi Clayton's page are heartwarming in the face of the tragedy of Bill's death. I became choked up several times while reading them. I can add very little to what has already been said.
So I wrote to Don, and asked him if I could put his letter here, and he answered:
I agree that we must redouble our efforts to convince the haters, the ignorant, the intolerant, the bigoted, the violent that their actions ARE NOT APPROVED by the larger society. It is a difficult, arduous, uphill struggle for many of the reasons laid out in Catherine Dawdy's letter to Bill's school principal.
And much of the blame for the intolerance, bigotry and hatred must be laid at the feet of the Pat Robertsons, Ralph Reeds and Jesse Helms of this world.
Just yesterday, on C-Span, Jesse Helms railed against "homosexuals and lesbians," saying he would fight attempts to portray theirs as just another kind of acceptable "lifestyle," ranting that it clearly is sodomy and that is not what the Bible tells us to do -- that the Bible calls the act an "abomination."
Then he launched into the tired, inevitable comparison of America in the 1990s with Sodom and Gomorrah. He said that if the "homosexual scourge" sweeps across the land without retribution by God, then God owes Sodom an apology.
This 75-year old man from North Carolina (who, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, received a $250,000 contribution from a foreign government) is now seeking a fifth six-year term in the United States Senate.
Our struggle is daunting, but we must persevere for all of the Bills among us.
My dear Gabi:
Of course you may post my letter to Steve Schalchlin on your response page.
There are many more things I could say to you, but I find it very difficult
to formulate my thoughts. Please excuse this feeble attempt.
I look at the photograph of your son and see myself as I was 43 years ago:
a bright, studious young man with his entire life before him. And I weep
not only for your loss, but for the loss of Bill's future that should have
I never was assaulted as your Bill was. No one ever subjected me to public
villification and humiliation. No one destroyed my will to live with hatred,
intolerance and bigotry. The pressures on me to conform in the 1950s were
much more subtle than the vicious attack on your son. Sadly, that was an
attack by boys whose parents failed to teach them simple respect for their
fellow human beings.
It is not that Bill was weak, but that the unreasoning, blind hatred all
around us is so very strong, so overpowering. It is nurtured in ignorance
by those who dare to speak "in the name of God" and who occupy high offices of public trust. It is given sanction by official government actions which
deny respect and equality under law to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people.
We must confront that hatred, born without reason, and expose it and
denounce it and defeat it at every turn.
Because you have chosen to do battle against the ignorance and hatred which
grows in silence, because you have found an unknown strength within you to
do so, because you have given so very, very much, because you refuse to
surrender your son's life without fighting to insure it is worthwhile...for
these reasons and more, I love, admire and respect you very much, Gabi Clayton.
Take very good care of yourself. All of us need you.
Don Kirkpatrick (donkirk@WHC.NET)
October 12, 1996
Dear Clayton Family,
I read Bill's Story and I would just like you to know that it really touched me. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for you to go throught the loss of your son, but perhaps even more so to publish the story about it.
I pray that God will continue to use your family as an
instrument of His peace.
In His Name,
Michael J. Ross (email@example.com)
November 1, 1996
My Dear Ms. Clayton:
I sat staring at the wall for the longest time after reading about your beautiful son's life and his tragic death. I fought back tears for the longest time...I fought the rage I felt for an even longer time. I know you have received an outpouring of words of sympathy and support. I hope you can deal with another.
I really doubt that I can tell you how sorry I am for the loss of your precious child. Odds are I will never feel the crushing, heart-rending pain that a mother feels when she has lost one of her own. It must be the most painful experience in the world and I hope you never have to endure it again.
I know in my heart that Bill has found the peace in Heaven that he could not find even a fraction of in life. I hope that you believe this too, for without faith and hope, we have nothing.
I find comfort in the fact that, hopefully, everyone who reads what you wrote about the life and death of your little boy will come away with an indelible mark on their hearts. A mark that will impress upon them every day of their lives that hate is the most evil force that has ever touched the human race in it's entire existence. I often fear that hate will forever be the cause of much of the pain and suffering in this world and I feel helpless in being able to do anything about it. But then I remember that each and every soul has the ability to control what is in their hearts and that each soul has the choice that God gave them, hate or love. It just seems to be easier to take the pathway of one than the other.
Your baby's death was the result of a heinous crime against humanity, but it was not in vain. For out of his death, and the time that you have taken to tell the world about it, comes the hope that we as human beings have the ability to stop the bigotry and hatred if we choose. It will take all of us who believe that, deep down, we are the product of what our hearts direct and those of us with a "good" heart can win the war against the evil that is hate.
I proudly stand next to you and every individual whose heart has been touched by what you have shared in the war on hate and ignorance. May we all fight the good fight and look forward to the day when you, Bill, myself, and everyone else who stands on the side of the Good Lord will be forever together and enjoy the peace that Bill enjoys.
God Bless you and yours, dear lady, and may the strength of God protect you and lift you up, even when the hours seem darkest and the night so long.
Randy Draffen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
November 3, 1996
I guess I can't say much that hasn't already been said. (God, I'm _crying_)
Since coming out, I've been working on a page for gay youth, with links and
my own story, so that those that feel like Bill did, but don't have a
wonderful family and such good friends can find information, support and
maybe someone to talk to.
Lately, I've been loosing the spirit to keep up. In a way, I regretted coming out and just felt like ignoring everything. Reading this gave me strength to keep up. And I promise that I won't stop before gay, lesbian and
bisexual people are accepted as persons first and gay/bi/whatever second.
again, thank you.
Mike Kazarnowicz ( email@example.com)[nightcrawler]
October 05, 1996
Wow - just seeing his picture brought tears to me eyes. And I hardly know what to say. Maybe it's thanks for putting a face out there for others to realize the result of hate and homophobia. Hugs, your neighbor to the north.
November 3, 1996
My name is Wyanne Thompson and I stumbled across your web site through
several other links. I am so touched by your strengh and dedication of you
and your family. I also feel that the hate needs to stop, and that silence
is only making it grow more. I am a bisexual woman that recently came out to my heterosexual husband after 7 years of marriage. We survived the crisis and it made our marriage stronger than ever. But, throughout the crisis, we were surprised to find so many in the same situation, and not much in the way of support. I took out a web page with our story, and how we made it, and how we intend to bring our son up in a loving, nonjudgemental family. The address is: http://members.aol.com/WyThompson/index.html
I would really like to link Bill's story to my page, with your permission.
May peace, love and joy always surround you and your loved ones.
Wyanne Coker Thompson (WyThompson@aol.com)
November 4, 1996
I stumbled across your website and the heartbreaking story of your son. I commend you for your courage and support-- and most importantly-- your love in a world that sometimes lets fear and hate consume it.
I am a 34 year old gay filmmaker, who is still amazed at the level of bigotry and discrimination in this country. Although we have come a long way since I was a teen, I commend and support all of your efforts in the Olympia area.
Your son Bill was someone special, and you both we're very fortunate to have each other-- and to continue in this journey of life.
I am currently getting a film project off the ground called THE TEST-- a story about a gay man and a straight man-- two strangers-- and the
their HIV test results. It's about, in simple terms, love. That we are all the same-- gay, straight, positive, negative.
I was feeling kind of low today with some setbacks (Hollywood can be merciless) on my project, but finding your site has inspired me and fanned my creative energy. Thank you for your honesty and inspiration.
JOHN MULLICAN (firstname.lastname@example.org)
November 5, 1996
I am a student at Oly High, and was friends with your son. He was a Junior and I was a freshman at Oly . We ate lunch together outside of Gerst's room that year. He was an extraordinary person and I will always remember him fondly. The memorial service was stunning, as well as the video that you made about him. I have always wanted to give you my support and recognition of your pain and dedication to your son and his memory.
The day before Bill died, my best friend Isaac died. On May 9, King 5 News
came and questioned me about why Bill killed himself. At this point in time
the rumor still was that he killed himself because he was so distraught over
Isaac's death. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for getting out there and telling the real story.
I thank you.
October 3, 1996
Thanks to Dan, a friend of Linda's (who has a letter above), I was able to get this letter translated.
Subject: From Italy to remember Bill
benche' capisca bene l'inglese non lo scrivo molto bene, quindi mi
rivolgo a Lei in italiano.
Voglio esprimerle, dopo avere letto la storia di Bill, tutto il mio conforto a lei ed alla sua famiglia, rivolgendo un pensiero affettuoso a questo vostro giovane smarritosi nella strada della vita.
Nel silenzio talvolta vi sono piu' risposte che in mille parole.
Vorrei posare anch'io un fiore immaginario, da parte di uno sconosciuto che viene dall'altra parte del mondo, sulla tomba del vostro, se me lo concedete anche "nostro", Billy.
Although I understand english well, I do not write it well, so I will write you in italian.
I wish to express to you (after having read the story of Bill) all of my comfort to you and your family... sending an affectionate thought to this your youngster, straying on the road of life.
Perhaps in the silence there is more of a response than in a thousand words.
I wish also to lay an imaginary flower, on behalf of an unknown who comes from the other side of the world, on the grave of yours... as if he were `our own` Billy.
Mr. Mangani (email@example.com)
A note from Gabi: This next one is a talk given by an old friend, Frank, to his church and then later to his PFLAG chapter. What you need to know is that the letter he referred to was one we wrote to him after Bill died that was the seed from which "Bill's Story" grew. The other things you need to know for this to make sense are that his wife is Carole and his son's name is Sam.
October 27, 1996
Dear Gabi and Alec,
Thanks again for letting me share your letter to us about Bill. I read it today to our followship (at his church). I did a short introduction, read the letter, and then talked about what it meant to me. I'm copying what I wrote to the end of this note. A lot of people were deeply moved by Bill's story.
I want you to know that his story has made a real difference in my life. I would never have gotten up before any group of people and talked about homophobia. But I did today, and I went to my first P-FLAG meeting this week. I met a great group of people. Carole sends her love, and so do I.
This is what I read before the letter)
When I was 23, Alec and Gabi Clayton offered me a chance to put my money where my mouth was. They ran an emergency shelter, for folks who fell between the cracks of the social service system, and a free lunch program for the street people who needed a meal. They supported this by running a weekly newspaper called "Persons." I lived with them a little over a year, and also their two boys, Noel and Bill, who were about 3 and 1. I had a great salary-- room and board. One time we put an ad in the newspaper
calling a meeting to organize a food co-op, and Carole came, which is how I met her. The food co-op flopped, but I worked out a better deal with Carole then just room and board. We were close with Alec and Gabi for several years, but eventually they move out west to Washington State, and here we are. About a year ago, I received this letter, which Gabi has given me permission to share with you.-
(This is where I read the letter, and the following is what I read after it.)
I was asked to share how hatred or prejudice had affected me. But I keep wondering about Bill's best friend. I don't know much about him, whether he was bi or straight, I guess since he had a girlfriend he was one or the other. But I do know that his friend had a good name. I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone named Sam.
I wonder if Sam is afraid to have another gay friend. I hope not, but I couldn't blame him if he is. It's way too easy for a boy to get called a faggot. I remember that. I suppose it happens to all of us, but it seems
like that when I was about twelve I spent days getting called a faggot. I learned to be careful.
I'm so careful that now, I'm afraid to say too much at work about the death of my best friends' son. A lot of people I work with would understand, but too many wouldn't, and I honestly believe some would make trouble for me. That's how homophobia affects me. It makes it easy for me to keep quiet. I'm also afraid that some people will misunderstand, thinking that because I care about this, I must be gay myself. I don't like being afraid to talk about things that should make so little difference to so few people. As it
happens, I'm heterosexual. But that isn't the most important thing I want you to know about me. I want you to know what I do, what I think, who I love, but I trust that you won't sweat the details. Being bisexual wasn't the most important thing about Bill either. It's a lot more important to me that Bill had friends, that he was going to see a movie, that he tried so hard not to be afraid. I miss who Bill could have been. I hope that I'll have the courage to do what I can, when I can to give the Bills, the Sams, and the Jennys perfect freedom to grow up unafraid of being themselves. I know it will happen again, but I don't want anyone getting a letter like this.
I'm going to meet a lot guys like the ones who abused and beat Bill and Sam, becaue of my work. I think about that sometimes, and some days I have a hard time with it. I may end up doing or arranging for some of that diversity training that Gabi mentioned, and while it sure seems pretty trite, I think its probably worth the effort. There are some things that can be done, that should be done, things that I can help do there. But, honestly, I am not really sure how much I can do if I'm afraid to be direct and honest at work about what I think and feel. Here I don't have that problem. You are the people whose community I'm going to need and whose strength I'm going to draw on. Thank you for listening.
November 11, 1996
I just finished reading Bill's story and it was amazing. I would like to
thank you for putting forth the effort to share that story with the world.
I am a bisexual woman who is out and fighting this same battle. I am also a
member of the Executive Committee for Binet Atlanta, and I maintain our web
site. I would like to ask your permission to link 'Bill's Story' with our
home page. So often so many people ask me why I am out, why I think it is
so important to be vocal and active and political. Bill's story is the
PERFECT way to answer that question, and, I hope, get more people active and
involved. If you would like to take a look at our home page before you
grant permission for the link, it is located at
http://www.mindspring.com/~bubastis/bi-net/. I would really appreciate it
- I think it is the most important story I've ever heard.
Thank you for your time.
Kelly Warner, BiNet Atlanta (firstname.lastname@example.org)
November 15, 1996
I found your story about your son Bill very moving. I'm sure others will
too. It is sad, yes, but also I believe it can reach a lot of people and
get them involved in the fight against discrimination.
My name is Rick Lethbridge. My partner Mark Jordan and I started a
small newsletter/magazine about a year ago aimed at the lesbian, gay and
bisexual community. It covers news, entertainment, community events and
has a section dedicated to service organizations available within our
community. We are proud to have had PFLAG listed from our premiere
issue up to and including our current issue. There is no feeling quite
like when you're watching a Pride Day parade and the PFLAG group walks
by. I myself am almost always moved to tears. To see the parents and
friends of people just like me marching in support of us, instead of
against us is indescribable.
Our little magazine also has a feature article in every issue and I
would very much like to include "Bill's Story" as a feature in an
upcoming issue with your permission of course. If permission is granted,
I'd be happy to send along a copy of the magazine. If you like you
could check out our website (It's not very flashy, but it gives you the
idea of what we're all about.) at:
Hope to hear from you soon and keep up the great work!
Rick Lethbridge, OUTLOOK
November 20, 1996
Dear Mrs. Clayton,
I am a 19 year old openly gay student at Michigan State University. After reading Bill's Story, all I can say is that my heart is with you. He and his story will not be forgotten.
David Kaye (email@example.com)
November 20, 1996
My name is Tawnya, and I live in Kelowna, B.C. What really got me is that I am from Olympia, Wa. I lived there for 19 years. I graduated from Capital High School in 1988.
What a sad, awful, story. My parents still live in Oly, as does my brother who is 19. I'm wondering if he might have known your son. Or if he may know your older son. I will have to ask.
I just wanted to let you know that I feel so much for you. You did such an incredible job on the tribute to your son. I am so glad that I happened to come across it.
You seem like a great parent, I have the same views and intend on being as supportive as you are with my girls as they get older. They are 3, and 1, now. I feel that it is really important that they know that they can come to me with anything.
Just thought I would let you know that I care,
November 23, 1996
Subject: Salt in the Wound
The part of Bill's story of the account of his love being rejected even in death, due to the ignorance and fear pervasive in the medical community concerning transplants from gay and bisexual persons, has it's glories as well. The denial of Bill's corneal tissue for transplant was instrumental in me coming out at work.
A group of us were sitting around showing the lousy pictures Pennslyvannia takes for it's drivers license photographs. A co-worker noticed the "Organ Donor" under my picture and made mention of it.
I, remembering Bill's post mortem insult, absently said, "They won't take my organs anyway." Someone else asked why. And there it was, so simple, so natural: a way for me to acheive both the freedom to be who I am and to expose to my fellow workers the to the homophobia of everyday life.
"Because I'm gay," I said.
The conversation shifted from the pictures to the blatant discriminatory practices of the public health officials concerning gays donating even blood products to the medical community. Concern is one thing, out-and-out rejection of a whole class of people for who they are is another.
So, Gabi, when next you see Bill in your dreams, please tell him "thank you" from me, for his gift was not in vain if a heart was opened to the plight of those of us who merely wish to give; to love.
Rob Momper (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Saturday, November 23, 1996
Thank you! Thank you for writing and publishing "Bill's Story" on-line! You know I have been promising to read it for some time now, but it never seemed like quite the "right time". I decided that today was the day.
I remember my great sense of outrage and horror when I first learned of the hate assault on Bill, Sam and Jenny. I was paralyzed with disgust and anger because it brought up so much unresolved rage and pain I carry over my treatment in high school some 17-20 years earlier. I was told about the rally, but chose not to attend - not because I did not care - but because I was so angry! After nearly 20 years as a Gay activist, I have reached a point to where I can hardly maintain my composure when confronted with the bigotry, name-calling, hatred, etc. Also, I had grown increasingly tired of Gays and Lesbians being used as whipping posts in media frenzies during political campaigns, in sermons from right-wing churches (in what can truly be labeled the "bully pulpit"), and in vile and nasty letters-to-the-editor in the local daily paper (and elsewhere). After the '94 election, I became deeply disillusioned with our country, political system, organizing, rallies, etc. My anger reached the point that I could no longer stand and fight the way I had in years past. There is one more reason I couldn't come... I was a continuous victim of physical and emotional abuse at my high school in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota - the memories of which can still haunt me today, if I am not diligent in believing in myself. I thought of Bill and Sam and just wondered... "why do they hate us so?" "why would anyone assume the right to attack somebody for being different than what they are?" "where are they learning how to despise their human brothers and sisters?" "how could it be that this sort of thing is *still* happening nearly 20 years out of my high school experience?"
I was so hopeful when I read the news report in the paper and Bill's comments. I was touched with great warmth when I read Noel's letter thanking the community. How I wished I had a brother with his degree of love and sensitivity!! I, too, was hopeful that Bill, Sam and Jenny would overcome this assault and be even more outspoken in their condemnation of homophobia and hate crimes. Of course I had forgotten how depressing it is to experience being an object of another person's hate when you are struggling with life changes that come in high school anyway. Gosh, it is still hard for me to believe today that 40% of our population (Washington State) would vote for a Christian Coalition candidate for governor who vowed to fight the Gay community. Maybe I was so optimistic about Bill, Sam and Jenny because they had the support of you, Alec, Noel and others. Having a loving homelife is such a crucial part of the healing process, and -- alas -- I was not granted that comfort either.
When I heard about Bill's suicide, I was overcome with deep sadness and grief. No, I had never met him face to face, but you see... in many ways he was my peer in the struggle against hate, those many years after my high school experience. His death brought back all those memories, and with it the resentments, frustration, rage, self-hatred, destructive behavior, you name it. I too was suicidal in my teens. I didn't know how to face people in my school, some of whom would kick me, punch me, you name it, and some I didn't even know. That is what made it so incredible to me. I would think, "how could someone who doesn't even know me, punch me like that?" I guess it is because as a "Fag" or "fairy" or whatever, I was not considered human. I still wonder how I was able to survive those dreadful years! But I did, and today I am grateful for that!
I did not know Bill personally, but I felt this deep emotion that a brother of mine - a promise for the next generation - had died. I felt this connection I had not felt in a long time. It was like I was being called there and needed to go. The memorial was not tradition, as you say, but the emotion, love and outpouring of support was phenomenal to witness.
You had a couple guest books open for people to complete and I started to write how sorry I was and how distressing it was for me personally to know that Bill lost his struggle, because of all I had and continue to endure in my battle for respect, dignity and understanding. The memorial was packed! And the film you did was quite touching, as was the silent procession to Sylvester Park. In the memorial flyer, I finally got to see Bill's face, which made it even more devastating...cause he was young, and full of so much potential, which we were denied when his pain and grief became too difficult to endure. I can't help but feel absolute disgust at the young people who assaulted him, and the mean letters to the editor, and at the man who raped him.
Although reading his story made me sad once more, and once again made me so sad that I had never had the opportunity to meet him, his death is not totally in vain. Bill's story is educating us all on the importance of acceptance, civility, and yes - of course - love. It is clearly showing that hate takes a great toll on humanity, and that we can not sit back silently when the homophobia beast rears its poisonous head. It brings out the activist in many of us!! Also, through Bill's death, I have come to know both you and Alec better and to reconnect with Catherine, all for which I am the better.
Bill's death and Bill's story made it possible for me to reach deep inside my own psyche and come to terms with my experiences of being a hate target. I am not there yet, but I know I am on my way.
With warmest hugs and love,
In memory of Bill !!!
November 24, 1996
I've said some deep prayers for Bill and the many other affected my societys crudeness... I a gay 17 yo going through some pretty tough times... I've contemplated suicide many times and tried once... thank god I wasn't successful... I've recently reached out and make my own story known... I've spoken at suicide prevention seminars... I've gained good positive experiences... Knowing I've done some help has given me courage to stand up for myself... knowing that I've done some good keeps me going in school.. its hard but I manage... The catholic school system needs help... the catholic community needs to become more sympathetic to the needs of gay bi lesbian youth... they have no clue how to handle the situation... but with people like us out there.. soon, soon it will get better... hopefully it won't take a hundred Bill's to make them open their eyes to see that they are commiting murder by the denial of us as human beings that were given a special gift from God to so how universal love is...
kudos to you for your work... Someday in the future we might encounter... I'm hoping to become a queer acitivist... because no one should have to face what Bill did...
November 24, 1996
As a 28 year old gay man, I am reminded daily that our society is not where it should be yet. Six years ago, I started volunteer work with our local teen support group, called Out Youth Austin. A few months into it, I was asked to set up a helpline for the local gay teens to be able to call to talk to someone about feelings/emotions or things that they were going through. It was set up for gay/bisexual/lesbian/transgendered and questioning youth. The helpline went national, and we tried to have the phones answered by volunteers from 5:30-7:30 PM everyday. The one person here in Austin who has devoted her life to helping our youth is Lisa Rogers, she is a remarkable woman.
My work schedule over the past two years was so demanding I had to give up my volunteer time at Out Youth. Reading your story today has reinforced that I must again MAKE the time available to give back to the gay community.
I feel guilty in that I haven't had the time to volunteer, but would like part or all or some of this letter available out on the web for youth that may come across it that there are people out there that care. Out Youth's helpline is 800-96-YOUTH.
Tim J. Tierney (email@example.com)
© 1996 by Gabi Clayton and the amazing people who contributed to this page.