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  • U.M. Cornet
    Feb 1, 2000
      This information is excerpted from the Reconciling Kansas newsletter,
      now online at: http://community-2.webtv.net/reconcilingkans/RK/


      On 19 Feb 99, Billy Jack Gaither -- a 39-year-old computer programmer from
      Sylacauga AL -- was brutally beaten with an axe handle. His throat was cut,
      and his body was set on fire. Charles Butler, 21, and Steven Mullins, 24,
      were convicted for the crime. Mullins later testified he killed Billy Jack
      because Billy Jack was "queer" and had made a pass at him. Jury selection
      for the trial was difficult -- many called for duty said that they didn't
      know whether they could render a fair verdict, because the Bible tells them
      that homosexuality is a sin.

      In "Assault on Gay America," airing Tue 15 Feb at 10 pm on PBS, FRONTLINE
      producer Claudia Pryor Malis and correspondent Forrest Sawyer explore the
      nature of homophobia in America, both as a catalyst for hate crimes and as
      an attitude that permeates public life.

      "We move from the exploration of the hate crime against Billy Jack Gaither
      to the larger question of how much homophobia we share as a society," says
      Pryor. "We examine the possible links between the forces that drove them to
      kill, and the forces that fuel homophobia in the general law-abiding

      America has developed a conflicted outlook regarding its gay citizens. While
      a majority of Americans have come to believe that homosexuals deserve the
      same rights as straight citizens, almost half of them believe that
      homosexuality is a "sin" or "wrong." This mix of acceptance and contempt,
      tolerance and prejudice, exists within many Americans.

      Billy Jack Gaither's sister Kathy, who is also gay, tells FRONTLINE that her
      brother never formed a long-term relationship with another man, because it
      would have forced his parents to face the truth about their son. "I think he
      respected them to the point where he put that aside. His parents meant that
      much to him. He wasn't going to do nothing to offend them or disrespect
      them," Kathy Gaither says. She also says that Billy Jack was worried about
      two men who had been propositioning him and wouldn't leave him alone. She
      believes that the men Billy Jack spoke of, just one month before his death,
      were his eventual killers, Charles Butler and Steven Mullins. Billy Jack's
      brother, Ricky, feels Butler and Mullins "lied" when they claimed Billy Jack
      had propositioned them. "Billy wouldn't approach anybody that didn't
      approach him. He didn't push himself on people. I think it was a cover-up."

      The term "homophobia" was coined some thirty-five years ago by Dr. George
      Weinberg, a heterosexual psychotherapist in New York, to define straight
      America's fear of gays. "The most important rule of all masculinity," said
      Michael Kimmel, sociology professor at SUNY Stonybrook, "is: no sissy stuff.
      What makes a man a man is that he is relentlessly repudiating the feminine.
      Some people think [homophobia] is the fear that deep down inside there might
      be some part of you that might be ... you know. And so that becomes really
      terrifying. I think men experience it in the following way: we are terrified
      that other men will get the wrong idea about us."

      Indeed, a 1993 national survey conducted by the American Association of
      University Women found that "gay" is considered the worst epithet in
      schools; some students reported they'd rather be physically assaulted than
      to be called gay.

      For many, interpretation of Bible scripture tells them homosexuality is
      wrong. Yet even the Reverend Jerry Falwell tells FRONTLINE that anti-gay
      rhetoric may have gone too far. "I never envisioned someone taking a teenage
      boy out and killing him, or a college kid, and killing him, just because he
      was gay." Still, Falwell says, "If we decide to establish homosexuality as
      an acceptable alternative lifestyle, I think we will see a breakdown of the
      family. I think that everything America's built on -- basically the
      Judeo-Christian ethic -- will be down the tubes."

      Check the FRONTLINE website at http://www.pbs.org/frontline for more on
      "Assault on Gay America," including:

      new studies on the roots of homophobia by biologists, psychologists, and
      social scientists;

      extended interviews with the family of Billy Jack Gaither and one of his

      the latest research on the nature of homosexuality, including a look at the
      question "Can gays be 'cured' or 'converted?'"

      video reports and an excerpt from the program; plus

      reports on the religious and cultural wars against gays;

      the "Assault on Gay America" Viewer's Guide, with thought-provoking
      discussion questions for a variety of audiences.

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