May 8, 2020 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the day our son Bill committed suicide after and in response to being assaulted in a bashing based on his sexual orientation.
I knew it was coming but when I woke up that morning it hadn’t struck me yet when our son Noel sent me a text message, “Thinking of you today.” with a heart. I thought for just a moment that he was early for Mother’s Day, and then it hit me that he was marking the day we lost Bill.
This year I considered not sharing the day on Facebook, but I have each year since I joined Facebook and decided to again because his life still has meaning and his death can still move people. It is one of the ways I carry Bill ever since I decided to learn web design in 1996 in order to share his story so that he would not be forgotten. So at 9:06 PM on Friday I posted this:
Twenty-five years ago today we lost our son Bill to hate.https://gabiclayton.com/BillsStory/
The response was striking. In just over three days so far there have been 253 reactions. 107 comments, and 16 shares. In these days of things going viral that is not a huge number but it is amazing to me.
After Bill died, the only example I had ever read about a gay person committing suicide was the 1995 book, Prayers for Bobby: A Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son, by Leroy F. Aarons who worked with Bobby’s mother, Mary Griffith. I don’t remember if I read it before or after I started my website. I just knew I had to be public and tell his story in hope that it could reach some people and make a difference so that the world would not be left as it was when he died.
I received hundreds (thousands maybe) of responses to putting Bill’s story online. Most were positive, moving letters, some were incredibly sad. A few were hateful, and I left those in my guestbook too so others could see what hate can be. Over the years since, a couple of the folks who wrote the horrid ones wrote to me and apologized because they had changed and were sorry for what they had written. The responses are posted here.
One email I got stands out that I have shared with a few people, but I am fairly sure that I never published it. It is one of the worst one I ever got, sharing that honor with the one that suggested I should join Bill in death and that the writer knew a bridge I could jump off of to do so.
I need to caution you that if you have never actually read Bill’s story you should do that first (here: Bill’s Story) because this letter below references some things that won’t make sense if you don’t know what the author is responding to.
From: (email address removed)
Sent: Tuesday, November 02, 1999
To: gclayton@… (an old email address of mine)
THIS LETTER I RECIEVED FROM A FRIEND SAYS IT ALL.
THERE IS NOTHING I COULD ADD.
SUBJECT What tripe!
http://members.tripod.com/~claytoly/Bills_Story (where Bill’s story used to live before I moved it here)
Can you believe this?! This woman gives her kid a book about sex including homosexuality. Then he ‘outs’ himself following that thinking he may be gay. His parents send him to a group of gays who just want to ‘hep’ those poor gay teens. He is tricked into leaving with one. He is homosexually raped. He is devastated and undergoes therapy for it. He is thrown once again to the other gay wolves by his mother for support. Then he gets into a schoolyard scrap, plays “POSSUM” to end the fight, calls it unconciousness, and gets his parents to harass the police to make a ‘hate crimes’ charge. The pics displayed show less damage than I used to get in a wrestling match in High School in gym class. Later when he commits suicide his parents blame the little ‘scrap’ instead of the rape. What unadulterated bull. This kid was even on psychotic drugs and had been for some time beginning with the homosexual rape. He left no note indicating that he was committing suicide. This kid saw no hope because mainly his mother started taking it from him by introducing him into the gay community in the first place after giving him her sex ‘primer’ book. Maybe it was some sort of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy with her. The mother then is outraged just because the Organ Donor program can’t carve up the remains of her son to use due to his homosexuality. She accused them of “Discrimination”! This ‘hateful’ type of crap is what the heterosexual community is always being branded with by the gay groups. They create the problem and then look for someone else to lay the blame on. One can’t help but wonder if sometimes it isn’t deliberately instituted by the gays themselves just to give them an excuse to get on a podium and play the “victim” and get all that attention so many of them crave. This Mother?! is a KOOK! Besides that she is now feeding off his bones so to speak by making a career out of his “glorious victimhood”. See what I mean; [old link to responses to Bill’s story which is now here) . You ought to take a look at the rest of the family! Definitely liberal arts all the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this kid didn’t pick up on vibes that he could get more attention from his mother if he played the victim and claimed he was gay. At the time I bet he didn’t expect her to send him some place he would get “cornholed” for it. THANK GOD I DIDN’T HAVE A MOM LIKE THIS !
Your friend, Billy
I wonder what happened to Billy before he wrote that to make him believe those things, and I wonder if he got stuck there or if he changed since. I doubt I’ll ever know.
I don’t want to leave this there though.
People have asked me how I could have survived Bill’s death. The answer I usually respond with is, “What makes you think I survived?” because the truth is I have no idea who I would be now and what my life would have been like if Bill had survived. But the answer is more complex than that. I survived for my family because the love we share did not get extinguished when we lost Bill. And that is the kernel and the core of what I think I was saying in this letter I wrote to friends:
The Mount Saint Helens Letter
by Gabi Clayton
January 27, 1997
This time of year is usually very grey in the Pacific Northwest, but we have been blessed with some sunny days. Today I was able to see the Olympic mountains across Puget Sound – they are covered with snow and quite stunning.
The sight of those mountains made me remember visiting Mount Saint Helens a few years ago with Alec and Noel and Bill. When we visited, the volcano had erupted years before our trip. The power of the destructive forces that had been unleashed still seemed overwhelming and un-survivable. Whole pieces of St. Helens were gone, as were people, creatures, whole forests… A lodge by the edge of Spirit Lake was buried there in the water that rose from all the trees that jammed and flooded the lake.
The mountain was forever changed; the losses were huge. And yet…and yet there was life returning to the mountain. A new tree pushing up here, a little animal there. We were delighted and awed by the healing that was taking place. Nothing would ever be the same, but something wonderful was growing out of those ashes.
And here I am, thinking of Bill, and of our losses. And seeing that it is SO huge, and that our lives are forever changed. The power of the destructive forces that were unleashed on Bill were overwhelming and un-survivable for him. And now, nothing will ever be the same for us.
And yet, there is healing – and there is something quite amazing happening – out of those ashes. You are all part of it… and knowing you all floods me with hope.
The Mount Saint Helens Letter is also online in PDF format here.