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1999 NCC News Archives

NCC General Secretary Condemns Murder of Gay Alabama Man

March 8, 1999, NEW YORK -- National Council of Churches General Secretary Joan B. Campbell today expressed her shock and sorrow at the brutal murder of Billy Jack Gaither, a gay Alabama man, saying, "No person should fear for his or her life simply because of who he or she is."

On Feb. 19, Mr. Gaither, a 39-year-old textile worker from Sylacauga, Ala., was beaten to death with an ax handle and his body burned atop two old tires doused with kerosene. His remains were found the next day by a passer-by.

Steven Mullins, 25, and Charles Butler Jr., 21, both construction workers from Sylacauga, were arrested March 4 and charged with the murder. Police said they had told investigators they killed Mr. Gaither because he was homosexual.

"The National Council of Churches long has spoken out for equal protection under the law for all who live in our nation, whatever their race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability or creed," Dr. Campbell said. "All people merit full civil rights including protection from bodily harm, and from denial or loss of employment or housing.

"Our outrage against hate crimes grows each time we add another example to the list: Matthew Shepard for being gay, James Byrd, Jr., for being black, and so many others whose names never make the national headlines."

She urged people to speak out in their congregations and communities against hate crimes and hate group activities, and to press the U.S. Congress – and the 29 states, including Alabama, that afford no hate crime protections to homosexual people – to enact them.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Gaither's family, friends and community," Dr. Campbell concluded, "with all who have suffered such loss, and all whose fear for life and safety is heightened by this crime."

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