Too many kids like my Bill  
by Gabi Clayton,
mother of Bill Clayton 
Jan 18, 1997 

Dear Maggie, 

You have my support on the "Bridges" project. I have been privileged to get to know you through PFLAG-talk over the last few months, and have inspired me in this work we share -- our "internet activism". 

For those who will read this, I want you to know that when I told Maggie that I supported her in this new undertaking, she asked me to write something for this website. I told her that she should read the "Encircled by my Heritage" essay I had posted on my website before deciding that she wanted me included. My fear was that my public support would add more controversy, and in the end could make this dialogue much more difficult. Which is the last thing I would want. When Maggie read it, she wrote me back: 

<<My parents were Baptists missionaries in Burma. It is interesting to me to see that at the core, Baptist missionaries and Jewish commies are the same. They expect to spend their lives changing the world.>> 

And I answered "Yes, Maggie - we have "common ground". I have noticed that before with some Christians and my heritage. It is interesting because they are portrayed as being polar opposites by many people." 

And so I am here. 

My mother told me years ago, when we lived in New York City, that when she was out on a bus or in some public place and she heard someone talking with a German accent or in German, her first reaction was to think of my dad. And then instantly she would remember the millions of Jews killed in W.W.II by Hitler - and scream in her mind "NAZI!!!" - and she would stiffen -- and the anger, the hate and the fear would rise in the presence of such horror. 

Then she would realize what she had just done -- she would see her prejudiced reaction -- recognize it and acknowledge it. And she would breathe and let go. She would begin again, with knowing that person was another human being - and she would start over from there. 

The other day, one of my friends wrote and asked: 

<<Clinically, as a therapist, what do you think causes the kinds of reactions in people that could lead to a group of young boys attacking someone like Bill? What buttons do we need to push in people to help them to see that by continuing in their thoughts and actions that innocent people are being hurt?>> 

<< How do we convince the people that don't agree with the bigotry and hatred to realize they also have a moral responsibility to stand up and speak out against it? >> 

And I answered: 

<<These are two very different sets of questions. Who do you want to reach? The bigots who beat people up? Or the "good" people who stand there and watch it happen and do nothing? Say nothing? >> 

Right now I am mostly going for the people who are silent - and maybe uneducated and maybe scared. Hey, I have been one of those myself at times in my life. Let opportunities pass that I could have spoken - about lots of issues. 

The other group - you ask me what I think causes that? Honestly, the word that comes to me is "evil". Somebody had to do something to twist the souls of those kids - to make them think that what they did to Bill and Sam was OK. 

Somebody had to take fear and turn it into the kind of hate that acts like that. Monsters. Yes, I believe in monsters. Human ones. Not the kids who beat Bill - the ones who created them. 

When they beat Bill and Sam they did not see them as human - and in the very act, they lost their own humanity. Lack of power in their lives? Frustration? Ignorance? Fear? Who knows? 

Reading the words that are stiff, feeling the anger, the hate and the fear rise in the presence of such horror - now I realize what I have done -- I see my prejudiced reaction -- recognize it and acknowledge it. And I breathe, let go, and start over. 

It is so easy to demonize when we don't recognize each other's humanity - our common bond - before we react. Do I now take back what I said to my friend? No. I still see evil. I still believe that it took "monsters" to create a world where my son would feel so overwhelmed that he would choose his own death. 

So where is the bridge? Perhaps one strand of it is in the very reaction - those four boys who saw my son and perhaps stiffened, felt the anger, the hate and the fear rise in the presence of such "horror". And acted on it. 

Too many people are dying. Too many kids like my Bill are losing hope that they can live in this world. I don't know if this project will succeed, Maggie. We - the sides of this that you are trying to build a bridge between speak different languages - I want a world without hate, and they want a world without sin. We must learn to talk with each other as human beings if we can. I hope it is possible. 

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text © 1997 Gabi Clayton