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" - page 2
November 16, 1996
Note from Gabi - I did reply! Among other things I said:
I am a 19 year old student at the University of Wisconsin, in Stevens
Point. I read the story about your son, Bill. Hearing his story told in
such a caring way really touched me.
I have recently come out to my parents with the fact that i am gay. My
father has decided to deny this fact because he believes I can never
trully be happy living this lifestyle. He also thinks I should wait till
later to "do this." I asked him "Do what?" His reply, "choose to be
gay." My mother was visibly upset by the fact when I first told her but
she is coming to terms with it, and it helps that I am away at school so
she can deal with it and I wont have to be there to deal with her.
I am afraid of my future. I find myself thinking I can't be happy
living this "lifestyle." I have come to hate the images words like fag,
gay, homo, homosexual, and gueer, conjure up. Yes they are the
stereotypical images of the effeminette gay, with limp wrist, and all
that but that is how the world around me viewed gays, and now I am
loathe to associate myself with those images. Yet at the same time I am
a homosexual, but still insecure in my sexuality and haven't completely
accepted it myself.
Reading your sons story hit home with me because of how I am feeling
about my future, about being gay. I struggle daily with conflicting
feelings about who I am and what that means to me, to the rest of the
world. Most of my friends are very supportive and I know that with out
them I would not be here today, yet my best friend whom I've known since
the third grade is not dealing well with this very well. Part of it is
his catholic up-bringing, now I don't begrudge him his religion but the
closed mindedness it has bred in him. I can't help but be scared of the
world when someone as close as we used to be can turn his back on me. I
wonder how the rest of the world will react.
I know education is the only way to overcome the bigotry, and
ignorance. At times I find myself wanting to get involved, yet I am too
afraid of the very community I am a part of.
I have never spoken to anyone of these fears before, but because of
Bill's story I felt safe talking to you about them, there is no need to
reply. I feel better having just written to you.
Sincerely yours, in anyway I can
Try to get them (his parents) to go to PFLAG, if you can. Do you know if there is one near them? It can be a great way for them to get support and meet parents and others who can help them deal with their fears, educate them etc. You might also want to go yourself - if you need support and help figuring out how to deal with family, etc...
I think that Bill turned the hate on himself - for a lot of reasons. And the homophobes play on the fears and make it tougher. I have been told that when people read his story it can help remind them that the hate is coming from the outside, and remind them to direct the feelings back out instead of in. It can be so easy to turn it on yourself, but that isn't where it belongs...
If you close yourself off, you lose all the possible good that can come into your life. What I have found is that by getting involved I have not only helped others, but I have given myself the opportunity to grow and learn and find ways to deal with my own grief and pain. AND, I have discovered an incredible community. That has been the best gift...
November 24, 1996
I read your son's story....It touched me very much. I think Bill would
be proud to have a mother like you....I know I would. You seem like a
very special person. You were blessed with a son who would change the
fate of his town...he stood up for his cause and got a bitter-sweet
victory. I too am part of a fight...living in a world that doesn't
really accept me for who I really am. Living in a world that thinks
anyone who has AIDS is sick and deserves what they got....I myself do
not have AIDS...but have a close friend who does...and has been
abandoned many times because of it.....I have one thing to say to you
and to those around you....NEVER GIVE UP! We can win....its just a
matter of time....
Halifax, Nova Scotia
I visited Wes & Tom's Cool Site which I found because of Steve Schalchlin.
While I was there I signed the guestbook, and commented on an amazing series of letters Wes has posted between himself and his QUITE homophobic aunt... Gabi
November 24, 1996
Thanks for taking the time to send us a note via our guestbook. Yeah,
The Letters are a trip! Heck, my aunt is a trip. What's funny is she
doesn't even realize it. "Self-righteous indignation." Or pompous ass.
I hope that when our next Christmas letter goes out -- and she will hear
of it indirectly -- that she's thoroughly humiliated that 4,000+ people
have read what a nitwit she is!
I was sorry to read about Bill's death. It also kind of gave me the
willies -- that reminder of growing up. I was called a "faggot" before
I even realized I was gay, starting with 6th grade (age 11). I've had
other friends mention the same thing, though I understand it's not
School was such hell for me that I spoke to my counselor when I was a
sophomore and told her I needed to graduate early. I phrased it
something like "I'm not learning anything here and I have to put up with
these immature kids. The only way to solve that is to graduate and get
out." She agreed. So, I wound up taking two extra classes a day (one
before school, the other at lunch) -- plus one summer of summer school
-- and graduated before my senior year. I'm really, really glad.
Maybe graduating early helped me avoid getting bashed like Bill. I had a
taste of the possibility: During my junior year, my mother twice
prevented me from getting beaten up.
One time, here was this big bully from the football team named Kyle
Caylor who used to razz me all the time. He parked in front of the
house and was waiting for me to get off the school bus to beat me up.
What he didn't know was that my mom was home that day (car in the
garage). I saw his car from the stop before, and got off the bus. He
started walking toward me. I was headed right for a neighbor's house.
Then I heard "Kyle, don't take another step." I turned, and there was
my mom at the front door. Kyle was still headed toward me. I kept
going to the neighbors. Then I heard "Kyle, take one more step and I'll
shoot." This time I turned, and so did Kyle. There was my mother with
her shotgun. Anyway, she made him get back in his car. Then, for some
reason, he wouldn't leave. (I would've been out of there!) So my
mother went in, set her shotgun down, and took her pistol out to his
car. And she neatly laid it out for him: You don't mess with my son or
I'll kill you. He drove off, and she shot in the air just so he'd know
that the gun was loaded.
The other time when Kyle was going to beat me up was at a basketball
game. (Maybe this was before the gun incident.) That time my mother
went to TCU (Tx. Christian U.) and got three football players -- these
guys were friendly hulks -- to escort me to the game.
And as I sit here telling you this I think, wow, I'm really thankful
that she went to that bother. But, in both instances we were fortunate
to have some kind of forewarning. Nobody should have to go through that
It's weird: Yesterday I read the feedback you'd gotten to the site.
Much of it was sadness, of course. But what I feel right now is just
angry as hell.
You know, I was pretty gentle with my aunt through all that stuff last
year. Maybe it's time to just tell her in plain English was a hateful,
narrow-minded wench she is. And how convenient...it's time for me to
start working on my Christmas letter...
Wes & Tom's Cool Site
November 24, 1996
Hi Gabi, remember me, Rebecca, from your Wednesday night group. I got
your home page address from my daughter, Tawnya who lives in Kelowna BC.
She had e-mailed me to tell me about "Bills Story" and give me your home
page address. She was pretty sure that I had heard about Bill, since we
live in Olympia, but little did she know that I knew you. She was very
touched by "Bills Story", and was so saddened and angered as we all were
by his sensless death. She very much appreciated your kind response to her
e-mail. I wanted to send you a few lines to let you know what great work
you are doing. Your home page is a wonderful tribute to your son and by
honoring him you are opening so many doors for others who will benefit from
your compassion and dedication to making life safe for all people who have
to battle with hate and discrimination. Thank you and your courageous
family for sharing yours and Bill's Story. I loved seeing the pictures,
especially the one of Bill and Noel together when Bill was 3. I remember
the rock that you brought to group to share with us. If I remember
correctly Bill gave that to you as a gift when he was 3 years old.
That was a very special gift you shared with us. As I held it when it was
passed around, I remember feeling a tremendous amount of love and warmth.
Thank you, Gabi, for sharing and for reaching out to so many people. I think of you often, and hope we will meet again.
November 25, 1996
I read the story of your son and was deeply moved. The loss of a child
is so horrendous, unless one has experienced it who can know your pain?
Your son sounds like he was too beautiful a soul for this world.
with great sympathy
November 4, 1996
Dear Miss Clayton,
My name is David Stout and I am the editor of Q-Notes, the gay newspaper of North Carolina.
Over the weekend, I found a copy of "Bill's Story" posted to alt.journalism.gay.press and was deeply moved by it. I am writing for permission to reprint it in our next edition. I will, of course, give you credit for writing the piece and attach your copyright to it -- as well as your WWW information.
If you allow me to use the story, I have one request to ask. For space considerations, I would like to edit out the portion that deals with the corneal donations. I do not feel that the information is extraneous, but it would be the easiest to excise without losing any of the article's true scope. We rarely publish stories as long as yours, so I hope that you will make this concession to the limitations of the print media.
Our readership survey shows that we have a significant number of young readers, I think that they will also be moved to see the struggles which overtook Bill -- one of their own.
I would be happy to send you a copy of the issue the article runs in if you would send me your address.
Thank you for your consideration,
David Stout, Editor, Q-Notes
November 16, 1996
Thanks for sharing the story about your son Bill. He was obviously a damned good kid.
Stuart McDonald (email@example.com)
November 25, 1996
Hi Gabi and all your FAMILY
Thanks for telling Bill's story.
If only those who PROMOTE gay hate, I.E. Pat Robertson's Christrian Coalition and the many so called Christain FAMILY organization, would just stop and think of the terrible pain they cause.
I am forming a chapter of the GLSTN here in the Albany, NY area. Bill's Story is an added inspiration for me in this effort. I will relate your son's story to those attending our first organizing meeting (December 16th).
You are an inspirational leader and soldier working to create change and stopping homophobia and discrimination against our GLBT young people.
John Myers (firstname.lastname@example.org)
November 26, 1996
Dear Gabi Clayton,
Someone just told me about Bill's Story. I visited your pages, and read through the whole thing in a tearful rush. Years ago I wrote a bestselling novel called "The Front Runner," which told of the tragic impact of such violence on young people's lives.
Today I live in Los Angeles, and am involved in the Los Angeles Unified School District as a member of the Gay & Lesbian Education Commission. It is a blessing that there are parents like yourself and your husband, who hang in there with their gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered kids through everything. Yet Bill's story shows that homophobia is a big threat even when parents are supportive. Here in our school district, in the L.A. Board of Education, and GLEC, and all the schools where Project 10 is now part of student life, we work for safer schools because we know that community support is vital to the welfare and survival of these young people. How sad that the young men who assaulted Bill only got 20 days in jail. Did you ever consider getting them re-tried them in civil court?
I have forwarded your URL to other people in LAUSD. The webmaster of my own Web site will add a link to Bill's Story. You are welcome to visit my pages, which are at http://www.gaywired.com/wildcat/wildcat.htm
All the best,
Patricia Nell Warren
November 27, 1996 10:06 AM
I just had the opportunity to view your web site and read Bill's Story. What a tragic loss. Like many of the other people whose responses I read after the story, I also found myself lost in emotion and tears as I
It is really wonderful to see loving parents such as yourself and Bill's father who are working so hard to make a difference and turning this kind of a negative into a positive.
I produce and co-host a weekly talkshow for the GLBT Community called Hangin'OUT. This past weekend, I had the privilege of interviewing Kevin Jennings from the Gay/Lesbian/Straight Teachers Network, Beth Reis from Safe Schools Coalition of Washington, Kelly Peterson from Salt Lake
City, UT, and Jamie Nabozny, whose landmark case was decided favorably in Wisconsin last week sending a clear message that the Courts are not going to allow people to attack other people because of their differences without someone being held accountable. Bill's Story just punctuated the entire purpose of why the communication that you and all of these other people are doing by speaking out is very important and vital for our future as a human global village.
We will undoubtedly do more programs on these topics. We also had Nancy MacDonald from P-FLAG on a couple of weeks ago. I hope that you would consider being a guest with us on a future show. We produce the show in Seattle on Sunday's, and would love to have you join us in our studio or by telephone.
If you would like to check out our show and website, because the show is broadcast exclusively over the Web using RealAudio (that way anyone can listen
from anywhere), please see: http://www.hanginout.com/.
Best wishes to you,
Hangin'OUT & Daily Dose
November 27, 1996
I thank whichever God(ess) claims me that I was given the opportunity to read Bill's Story. I am so overwhelmed with sadness I hardly know how to express it. Your strength and purpose are most definately a tribute to Bill's sweet soul.
I too have been the victim of bashing and while I believe I have subconsciuosly suppressed any memory of the actual beating and the events leading up to it I have not been able to suppress the fear that I live with on a daily basis.
I am an openly Gay Male pushing 40 and have had enough life experience to allow me to move beyond my fears and confront them. I openly display a rainbow triangle on my car and at times in the window of my home in spite of the fear. There are days when it (the fear) hardly touches me and there are days when it can become almost all consuming.
I grieve with you in your loss. Your story has left me sobbing and stirred the anger that fuels my resolve to fight social intolerence and bigotry in all it's guises. I grieve especially for Bill and the torment of the soul that led to his parting. You see I have intimate knowledge of that state of mind. I suffered a nervous breakdown shortly before my 18th birthday after comming out in the Military. I am not sure how I
managed to survive that period in my life when I too contemplated suicide. The memories of those teenage years are still very vivid in my mind. Bill showed more courage than I think I could have mustered at that age.
I am very interested in the work you are doing. I am especially interested in the Anti-Violence Documentation Project. I would be very interested in discussing that project with you further and brainstorming on how such a project might be enacted on a national level. If you know of similar work being done elsewhere I would love to get contact information.
If you follow the link below to my homepage you will see that I am working to form an organization to provide Video Production Services to GLBT community organizations as well as to produce educational programs to promote social justice. I have little money or support for my projects at this time but want you to know that whatever rescources I can lay hands on are at your disposal should you ever need them.
I would also like to explore with you the possibility of working together on a documentary that exposes the heartbreaking results of bigotry and hatred on GLBT youth, their family and their friends. You are unquestionably qualified to lend your voice to such a program.
I look forward to hearing from you.
May whatever God(ess) exists bless your sweet and caring soul!
Michael Davis (email@example.com)
November 28, 1996
First of all, please accept my warmest sympathie after the death of your son Bill.
I have heard a few stories like Bill's in my life. I partly lived one when I was young.
I am a gay activist here in France. I head an organization close to the social-democrat party, Parti Socialiste. At the moment, we are working on gay and lesbian youth. We hope not only to convince our party of the accuracy of the topic but also of the urgent need to act, if we come back to power.
I shall read your text or a sum-up of it at our next meeting. And translate it for larger diffusion.
I do thank you for sharing your story with us all. To have the courage to speak up. To love your son so much as to create this page. It is probably the best proof of love you could give him : make it public to the whole world.
Love from France
35 years old
Please pardon any mistake of vocabulary or else which might turn part of the text into an offense to you and your family. You understand my aim is to show you my consideration and love.
November 30, 1996
What a moving and touching site. We have encouraged other students here at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to visit it, as many of us can relate to the pressures and stresses of being out in a society that still retains its prejudices.
Your site cannot bring Bill back again, but it does retain his vitality and a spirit that lingers and inspires and that encourages an ever-increasing circle of supporters to defeat prejudice in a spirit of true love. In the words of Edwin Markham:
"He drew a circle that shut me out -
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took him in."
Congratulations for beginning to draw that larger circle.
Patrick Meade ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
Wharton's Out for Business - gay/lesbian/bisexual association
Wharton School, Philadelphia, PA
December 2, 1996
A couple of years ago I was a counselor on a state-wide support hotline for gay teens and for runaways, so I heard from many kids whose families abused them physically and or emotionally, or threw them out after discovering their sexuality. When I read "Bill's Story" a couple of weeks ago, I thought of all those scared kids that I used to talk to every day, and I wept to think that some of them might be dead now as a result of ignorance and intolerance.
You and your family did a rare and wonderful thing by providing Bill with so much love and support as he came to terms with his sexuality. Your son's spirit really comes through in your description of his life and death. I've never felt such grief for a person I didn't know. Thank you for sharing his story with the world. I've been forwarding it to everyone I know.
My husband is a psychologist whose research focuses on people who are HIV+, and he and I are committed to working for full civil and human rights for gays,lesbians, and bisexuals. We've got a lot of work to do, especially in educating our own families.
During the Thanksgiving holidays, I was having a warm conversation with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law when the conversation turned to why my mother-in-law's neighbors never had children. She told us that the wife and husband each had two gay siblings, and they decided not to have kids because they didn't want to take the risk of having kids who might turn out "that way". I was stunned to hear my mother- and sister-in-law heartily agreeing that they would have made the same decision, because they couldn't imagine anything worse that you could learn about your child!
I was so stunned by their comments that I couldn't say anything for a while, but then I told them how strongly I disagreed, because of gay and lesbian friends I have whose lives are happy and fulfilled, and who now enjoy good relationships with their parents after an initial difficult adjustment period. They told me that I would understand how they feel when I have children of my own, and they found it hard to believe that I would love a gay child as much as a straight one. They made the argument that there's so much prejudice against gay people that they wouldn't want to have a child who might be gay. My mother-in-law can't wait for us to have a baby. Since my husband is white and I am black, I wondered what they would think if we decided not to have children because they'll experience racism someday.
I couldn't believe I was hearing this from my upper-middle class, politically moderate in-laws, who accepted me into their family with open arms, and who are wonderful people in every other way. Maybe I'll forward them a copy of "Bill's Story" today. Intolerance of gays really seems to be society's last remaining acceptable prejudice.
My original purpose for writing was to tell you that I wanted to join Steve Schalchlin's Fan Club (and I do), but then I remembered that I learned about Steve's diary through a link from the "Bill's Story" page, and I just wanted to let you know how much "meeting" Bill meant to me. Also wanted to thank you for being the means by which I was introduced to Steve. I've read his diary from beginning to end, and he's now my favorite complete stranger! I can't wait to order the CD of "Last Session" songs. You and Steve have really enriched my life these last two weeks. I'll probably never meet either of you, but I feel such affection for you, and gratitude that people like you exist out there in the world.
Sign me up in the fan club, and keep doing all the good things you do.
Note from Gabi: Since this is a great opening, I want to say something here. Steve Schalchlin has announced that the CD he is releasing in mid-December, "Living in the Bonus Round" (which I have heard on tape) has this dedication:
"In memory of Bill Clayton and dedicated to Shawn Decker."
Shawn's wrote one of the first responses to Bill's Story. He's an amazing young man who has a wonderful sense of humor - he has been known to describe himself as "a 21 year old gen X punk positoid." Shawn has hemophelia and has been HIV+ since he was 11 years old. He is on the cover of POZ magazine this month, and they did a fine article about him. I am lucky to say he is one of my e-mail pals.
And you all know who Bill was.
Thank you, Steve, for this wonderful honor for Bill - and for Shawn.
The music is incredible! As are you, my friend.
December 2, 1996
And this was the attached text file...
First let me tell you how much I have appreciated the effort and courage
you, your family and Bills friends have show in sharing your story. I
first came across Bills Story in a Fido Conference called Gaynews (yes some
of us still travel the back road now and then). It was then that I was so
moved by the words, by the tragedy and in the end the determination and
compassion of people who truly care about themselves and those around them.
I have been for some time horrified both as an adult and a gay male at the
hurdles our young people, no matter what their path, have to face and how
many of those obstacles are so unnecessary. I have attached the text file of the response I sent on the Fido conference. Please excuse the spelling and grammar as it was written online and from the heart.
My respects and my honor.....
In Love and Light.....
> Portrait of a Son's Suicide
> Bill's Story
> by Gabi Clayton (Bill's mother)
> With editorial assistance and inspiration from my friend, Steve Schalchlin
Richard I know this is not quite right but I was wondering if you may be able to help me get in touch with the author of this article.
I cannot say just how moved I was after reading this. To know that a young persons life was stolen because of hate and the intolerance and pain that it causes. My heart goes out to all those who's lives were so enriched by Bills life and the story of how it was taken. I would like to tell his family that I as a gay man am so ashamed that the trust that Bill placed in a gay adult was so twisted, turned into something so hurtful. I to remember the horror that I lived through as a young gay man and I also remember the blackness. I to had my trust turned on me and at one time tried to end what for me had become unbearable. Please know that my tears, my thoughts and prayers are with you and with Bill.
Bill I did not get to hear your voice, to see your smile but I have felt your light, heard your song. Please know that while I missed meeting the man you were you are sadly missed and will never be forgotten.....
In Love and Light.....
November 21, 1996
I'm not gay, and have never considered it. I think it's wrong, and I think it is immoral. But I also believe it does not justify what happened to your son. He was different, as am I. I understand what he must have went through.
The point of my message is not to demean Bill, or to demean myself. I just wanted to congratulate you on standing by his side. Although he ended his life, he still had a loving family. Your great forgiveness and acceptance is remarkable, and I applaud you for that.
I never had a mother or father like that. You're both special people, and if there's a God, may he bless you both.
Nick A. Wyse
To which I answered:
I have waited a while to answer your letter. I wasn't sure I was going to. What you said about gay being immoral is the only negative response I have had to putting my son's story on the internet - so far. I guess I expect that I will get more.
Anyway, you said
I'm not gay, and have never considered it. I think it's wrong, and I think it is immoral.
Being bisexual was part of who Bill was. Like his being "gifted" or his wacky sense of humor. To me, immorality is about something a person does, not about who they are. Obviously, there are gay people who are immoral, like the man who raped Bill. But there are plenty of straight people who do immoral things too. Should all of them be condemned for the wrong that
But I also believe it does not justify what happened to your son. He was different, as am I. I understand what he must have went through.
I am glad that you don't think what happened to Bill was OK. Some people do - or it wouldn't have happened. Those kids who beat him up don't live in a vacuum. There is a lot of hate out there. They believed what they did was fine. One of them even told the police that he would do it again if he got the chance.
The point of my message is not to demean Bill, or to demean myself. I just wanted to congratulate you on standing by his side. Although he ended his life, he still had a loving family. Your great forgiveness and acceptence is remarkable, and I applaud you for that.
Thank you. I did accept and love Bill. I'm not sure what you are referring to about forgiveness. I didn't have to forgive Bill. He didn't do anything wrong. Not that he was a perfect human being. He wasn't - I don't know any of those. But he was a good person, and I was very proud of him.
I never had a mother or father like that. You're both special people, and if there's a God, may he bless you both.
I'm sorry you didn't have accepting parents. I mean that. You don't say much about how you are different, so it is hard to know what else I can say about that. Every child deserves to be loved, accepted and supported by their family. Unfortunately, a great many kids are rejected and hurt instead.
And the conversation between us has continued. Nick wrote:
Also, I'm not saying that gays should be condemned for being gay, I simply don't believe (at this point in time) that being gay is something that is genetic. Therefore, I believe it to be a decision, and a decision is an action. Hence, it is something that you do.
As you know, I disagree. So, I have a question - when did you decide to be heterosexual? (You may have heard that question before - I didn't invent it.) I do agree that a decision is an action. But many, many people live their lives, or much of their lives "deciding" to be straight, and many of them have said they were so miserable - because it was a denial of the truth - that was killing them from the inside a little bit every day.
To my saying "One of them even told the police that he would do it again if he got the chance." Nick replied:
It makes me sad to know that there are people like that in the world. I have realized it for a long time, but it doesn't make it any easier to hear another account of how some imbecile helped destroy the life of a good person.
December 3, 1996
I want you to know that I enjoyed reading your heartfelt memoir on your son Bill. I am sorry that Bill ended his life, and I am sorry that so much hate exists in this world. You are an inspiring mother; I hope you continue to enlighten as many people as you can.
My very young and wonderful partner committed suicide in January of this year; I am therefore very familiar with the pain and agony you must be feeling. In order to help myself to cope with my pain, I, too, have spent a little time on the internet, utilizing yet one more avenue to memorialize Jennifer. I find that this is good therapy for me.
I am writing to ask your permission to let me add your page on Bill to one of my home pages. The url is http://www.flinthills.com/~dtaylor/activism.html in case you are curious. On this page, called "The Importance of Activism," you will notice that I have included two links: one goes to my page on Jennifer, and the other (click on the word Hell) goes to the home page of Benjamin Phelps, grandson of the horrible gay-hating Fred Phelps (he's the guy who pickets funerals of people who died of AIDS). If you read my page on activism, you will very likely see how I plan to include Bill's Page. I think it is important for people to hear our stories.
I am very troubled by gay-bashing, and the effect it has on our gay youth. This is why I spend much time researching and writing and responding to hate. Some of my articles can be read at http://www.flinthills.com/~dtaylor/article.html (in case you find yourself with nothing better to do!!). My article entitled "So many good people seem bound for Hell," was read by many appreciative gay teens. Hopefully, with enough of us taking up the cause, we can save many young people from ending their lives as our loved ones did.
Thank you for your contribution to learning.
Deb Taylor, Manhattan Kansas (email@example.com)
December 04, 1996
I just wanted to drop you a note to say that I wish that all parents were as wonderful as you. I too have a very supportive family but I know many that do not. You have my utmost respect and sorrow for your loss.
December 8, 1996
There are some letters about Bill up on other sites, thanks to Maggie Heineman - PFLAG mom, webmaster and activist-extroidinare! I "met" Maggie when I signed up for PFLAG Talk (see below). The websites she has created are all wonderful and I would like to share them with you. ---Gabi
On the page she did for the Campaign for Equal Rights at Chrysler there is a response I wrote to the CEO of Chrysler in the sample letters section.
Maggie has posted one of my letters in the responses to Alex from a PFLAG-Talk, who wrote Sign on Wall - "Hit Head Here - X" about his first trip home for Thanksgiving after coming out to his family.
Most recently, she wrote about Bill and put a letter I wrote on the site she created to let people know about the Chadron State College Campaign Against Homophobia. Chadron is in Nebraska, and Matt McNeil is a young gay student who dropped out of college there after he was victimized by hate.
And there is a letter to me on The Rhea Murray Website. Maggie describes Rhea as "a proud and eloquent mother of a gay son... Her courage on the frontlines of homophobia fills us with pride mixed with fear." Rhea is the president of the PFLAG chapter in Seymour, Indiana. All of her writing is recommended - two of my personal favorites are "Mother Phoenix" and "Tragedy in the Heartlands".
While I am at it, check out Maggie's page for the DePauw University Campaign Against Homophobia. DePauw is in Greencastle, Indiana and there was recently a major homophobic incident there. This story is one that gives me hope that change is possible - a that internet activism can make a real difference!
And one more great site by Maggie - PFLAG Talk and TGS PFLAG where you can learn more about the PFLAG Talk and TGS PFLAG Internet lists - virtual PFLAG chapters on the 'net for support, education and advocacy. The Virtual Library there has tons of great information!
December 5, 1996
I was very touched by this story. I would like to include it in my collection at VOICES For the Fires That Burn. The VOICES homepage is located at
When I was 18 years old, I wrote a play called Rites of Spring which is a love story between two 14 year old boys, one who then commits suicide. Ten years after I wrote the play (and some re-work) it was produced twice and won theatrical awards in British Columbia Canada.
I was sexualy abused from age 10 to 14 without going into a song and dance about it, and I am sure you know how the story goes, I could too easily relate to the tribulations of Bill.
Thank you for taking the time to share it with the world.
December 10, 1996
It's difficult to sort out what I wanted to say at this point. Reading Bill's story brought back so many things.
Mostly, I think I just wanted to say thank you for being such wonderful, supporting parents. I know that parents are never perfect, but it is rare, at least in my short and possibly limited experience, to find parents like you.
I was born and raised not far from Olympia (Oregon), mostly rural places. My parents were/ are fundamentalist christian preachers. That may explain some things about me. My biggest wish for my parents is that, even though they may not accept me for being gay, that they will at least learn to talk to me, if not as an equal than as a person. This will most likely never happen, at least with my Mother, who is in the last stages of cancer. Yet still they won't speak with me, despite many attempts on my part.
But that's not why I wanted to write, really.
I think what I really wanted to write about was a certain experience that occurred at about 12-13 years of age (12 years ago already?). In junior high a friend and I revealed to one another that we had these cartain "feelings." Nothing sexual happened, but it didn't need to. We were no longer alone. About two months after that, my family moved to another church in a near-yet-distant town (we moved evry 6-12 months). Soon after, I read in the newspaper that my friend was found dead in a field. The newspaper stated that he'd had a hunting accident. When I went to the funeral service, the parents asked me to leave. It appears they'd found his journal in which certain "things" were revealed, and told me it was my fault he was dead. This is how I discovered that he'd actually killed himself. For many years after, I couldn't help but wonder that if only I'd been able to talk to him, he'd still be alive. Of course, coming from my background and a foundation of constant guilt and shame, I also thought that if I hadn't revealed myelf to him, he wouldn't have killed himself, either. But that's what they want us to think, I suppose.
It was only a few months after this that a foster brother (six months my junior) and I were caught "exploring" with one another. Even though he had initiated the situation (I wasn't complaining!!), I was older and so was sent into youth sexual offender and "anti-social" youth programs while he was sent to a sexual abuse victim program and removed from our home. This initiated many other things, but that would make this story even longer, and I don't think any of us want to go into that!!
After that, as I was coming to terms with myself, the thought of suicide was a constant presence. But I decided I'd rather make everyone who said I was evil suffer by not giving in or giving up. And I'm having too much fun being alive right now. I think one of the major steps in coming to terms with one's own sexuality is learning to love one's self. A difficult task in a society in which we're constantly told that we're evil, wrong, and should be dead.
Another incident Bill's story brought back took place about five years ago. My parents had disowned me (the second time) after I had come out to them (My 'coming out" letter is an interesting read, to me at least). I was living and working on my own (as I had been since the age of 16), trying to balance two jobs, college and quite a bit of media activity surrounding the Gays in the Military issue (I had been thrown out of the Army not too long before that), and the fight against the OCA in Oregon (I'm sure you know about that one). I had been on television several times for these things, as well as for a play I was involved in called "Springfield USA." It was a story of a young man who is growing up in a divisive community and discovers he's gay (sound familiar?). His parents are leaders of the fight to "save the children from the evils of homosexuality." He ends up killing himself. Ironically, I played the straight older brother. Go figger.
During this time, I was walking home from one of my jobs when I was attacked outside of a bar I was passing. Some of the patrons recognized me from television, and decided it was a good opportunity to make themselves feel big. I was in the hospital for a week after that, but happy to be alive. One of my brothers (who I get along well with) told my parents of the attack, thinking they may be concerned. Their response was that I deserved it, and what did I expect? My attackers were charged with being drunk and disorderly and were required to pay a minimal fine.
Possibly my parents think that what they're doing is the best thing. It was soon after this that they sent their church "counselor" after me in a forced "intervention" to help me become straight. It was like something out of a really bad movie, but it happens.
Once again I've forgotten what my point may be :?
I now work for/ run a queer record label (Trip Records - http://www.tripnet.com/ ) in New York City as well as own and run a very small press publishing company (Baby Rhino Press). Many of my motivations for doing these things I do is to let gay kids know that they are ok, that they're loved, and that they're important just because they are.
I'll leave you alone now, but I'd like to close by saying that having been through all of these things has only made me stronger and more resolved to making a place in this world for all kids. A place where they can feel good about themselves. Where they have openly gay public figures, actors, writers, politicians and athletes that tell them, "you're special and you're beautiful." And, most importantly, a place where they have parents and family who are as supportive and loving as you.
Thank you very much for being you, and for sharing a part of yourself and your story with the rest of us. It does make a difference.
December 10, 1996
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Clayton,
I was deeply moved and touched by your story. I was also overcome with a
loathing for the kind of behavior that haunted your son, Bill. At his age, I
too was a depressed, confused and suicidal youth. Had I been subjected to
the kind of brutal attacks (sexual and physical) that your beautiful boy was,
I wouldn't be here, today, telling you of my feelings. I, too, would have
given up. It was just so hard.
I am sure that the letters and prayers still pour in. For that you, no
doubt, take some comfort and solace. But, as you know, no words or
expressions of compassion can bring Bill back to you so you have done a
wonderful thing by bringing his memory to the forefront and allowing people
like myself the opportunity to know him. Through a mother's eyes we can know
a child best.
I will carry his story and courage in my heart. My words are only feeble
attempts at conveying my admiration for the love and strength with which you
carry out your convictions. Had my parents been as supportive and
encouraging as you were for your son, I may have avoided a dark and lonely
period in my life.
With my fondest wishes for the holiday season, the new year and all the years to come. Your son lives on in each of us who now know his story. Thank you for sharing him so lovingly with the world.
December 4, 1996
Hello there. I read about your son Bill, and I started crying. I'm so glad that there are people who are supportive, and that you and the others I read about in the responses are some of those. I got your web site from a link on the North Andover Gay-Straight Alliance home page at: http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/5321
A short while ago, two and a half months to be exact, some friends and I formed this G.S.A. in our school. We did this because we were sick of the ignorance and homophobia. Our group is thriving, although our school has already recieved a letter asking that we be shut down. Our school is supportive, however, and we still exist. With people telling their stories, I believe they can help, and you are doing a great job. I am deeply sorry for your son and for you. You are exceedingly brave for what you've done, and you will be remembered by those grateful to you.
December 15, 1996
You and Alec must be MARVELOUS parents for Bill to have come out to you at such a young age. This in itself shows me that you gave him great self-esteem and that he trusted you implicitly. What a blessing.
I recently read "Bill's Story" on the Internet and cried several rivers. You are not alone...And I thank you so very, very much for sharing his story. Your website is the best memorial he could ever have, because it is a living, lasting one which will directly impact the lives of many people - gay and hetero.
I am gay myself, but it took me 39 years to come out. 39 years! But that is not atypical, I am learning. When I came out to a 74 year old grandfather I had worked with, HE came out to ME! The mind boggles to think of how MANY gay men, especially in the older generation, are living lives of quiet sadness, stuck in opposite-sex marriages which they were forced into by society. Just try to imagine yourself being forced to be married to a woman all your life, when you are really attracted to men.
For a young person like Bill, dealing with the overpowering homophobia of the world is almost impossible. I am certain that the suicide rate for gay youth is FAR higher than just 3 times higher than that of straight youth. I know that if I had killed myself as a teenager (which I would have loved to do if I'd had the courage) NOBODY would have known why I did it. Similarly, I am sure that countless gay teen suicides go completely unrecognized for what they are.
All gay youth are vulnerable to feelings of total hopelessness. Hatred, ignorance, and homophobia are virtually the AIR that we breathe in this society. Even with very liberal parents, as I had and as you are, the impact of this overwhelming societal ignorance is not lessened. It is almost impossible not to suffocate from it.
But when I hear of someone like yourself, your husband, and your son... speaking out against this ignorance, and trying to understand what Bill went through, it gives me such hope. I attend P-FLAG meetings here in Atlanta just to get a swallow of that hope, and the words of beautiful heterosexual parents like yourself are like wings of angels to me. They lift me and make me know it IS possible for heterosexuals to think of us as human beings. No matter how kind, generous, hard-working, thoughtful, or wonderful I may be, some people will never think of me as equal, or normal, or worthy of the right
to simply get legally married. But when I see that people like you exist, I can take a deep breath, thank God, and carry on.
I hope we all keep our candles burning - from now on, when I need strength to carry on, I will think of you and Bill.
December 15, 1996
Another note from Gabi: On the bottom of this page, where the links are, there is one I just added called "Encircled by My Heritage". I posted it last night, and in a way it is a response to all of this - and a little bit more of a personal history about me.
December 16, 1996
Before I got on this list, I read about you and Bill and was moved to tears. I can relate to how Bill must have felt, having gone to an extremely homophobic high school (back in the late 60's!). I didn't understand my own feelings at that time and was not sexually active in any way, but was tremendously hurt by all the comments, harrassment and occasional beatings from guys at school. I had *no* idea what was going on, or why I should be singled out for this punishment. Thank you for having the courage to share your very personal and painful story.
Todd Roos (TODDROOS@aol.com)
December 17, 1996
Rick Lethbridge, who had a letter on the first page of responses, wrote to say that the the December issue of Outlook magazine, with "Bill's Story" reprinted in it, is now out. Outlook is published in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
There is an article by David A. Moore about "Bill's Story" coming out in Etcetera magazine's Homophile section (culture, arts, human interest features) this week in Etc., Vol. 12 # 51. It hits the stands late on 12/18. Etcetera is published in Atlanta and is distributed throughout Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and North Florida. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
December 17, 1996
These next two are not responses to "Bill's Story" on the web, but to Bill's story here in Olympia, and how it continues to play out here in our community. They are Letters to the Editor of our daily newspaper, the Olympian:
No problem exists at Olympia High
(published on 11/29/96 and 12/5/96)
Tolerance claims are not wholly true
Olympia High School students are respectful of diversity. Please set the record straight.
No one was more incensed or outraged than fellow students when Bill Clayton was assaulted. That he could be brutalized (over a year ago) on their campus, by students from another high school, made all Olympia students feel unsafe. The incident happened during a school holiday, when no officials were present and the school was empty.
The Olympia High School students and staff were supportive of Clayton and felt deeply saddened by his tragic suicide following that outrageous act of violence and the untimely death of his friend Isaac Swift.
As a parent volunteer in the Olympia School District I know the mission of the district is "to educate students in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, which will inspire each student to achieve personal growth, to value lifelong learning, and to become a responsible, contributing citizen in a changing world."
There is no tolerance for any kind of harassment or violence in the Olympia schools, including Olympia High School.
The author of a recent article had to refer back to an incident of almost two years ago to highlight this problem. Your coverage of the incident, intended to point out concerns of the Safe Schools Coalition of Thurston County, actually implies a problem at OHS, which is not so.
Linda W. Lamb/Olympia
(published on 12/12/96)
In response to the letter to the editor in November 29th's Olympian entitled, "No problem exists at Olympia High." I am responding to the author request "to set the record straight." No pun intended, I'm sure.
First of all, the statement, "Olympia High School students are respectful of diversity," is not a wholly true statement; it implies that all students are respectful of diversity. Clearly the student from Olympia High who rode in the car with the other three students from Rochester, who identified Bill Clayton as "gay" (sic; he was bisexual), and who participated in the assault in April of 1995, was not a student respectful of diversity.
There are many students, faculty and administrators who do not tolerate harassment and violence . . . but there are many who do tolerate it, many who are silent about it, many who pretend it doesn't exist, and still others who participate in it. There are many people who can't even recognize harassment, because their own prejudices have never been challenged.
Denying that there are any problems at Olympia High or any other school is one way to stall the discussion about what can be done about those problems, but it doesn't make the problems go away. And, it doesn't help the students who are there now, the one's who are and will be harassed or possibly brutalized.
I encourage gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, and straight students of Olympia High and other schools, whose lives are disrupted because of harassment, to tell their experiences. I encourage them to do so with The Safe Schools Coalition, who collects statewide data about such harassment, so that people who say there is no problem can be refuted. The phone number is (800) 5BPROUD.
I encourage the administrations of all schools to begin seriously addressing the needs of these youth through school policy support and diversity training specifically about sexual minorities. The Safe Schools Coalition provides such training. The phone number is 206-632-0662 ext.208.
Though I strongly disagree with the author's opinion that no problem exists at Olympia High, I remember well that there were many students and staff who were supportive of Bill Clayton and who felt deeply saddened by his death. Their support continues to mean a lot to us, Bill's family. And, we will continue to dispel myths, prejudices, and happy-white-lies when we see and hear them.
© 1996 by Gabi Clayton and the amazing people who contributed to this page.