LGBT Activists Push Lawmakers at Vigil to Protect Victims of Hate Crimes


By Catalina Trivino

It's been 14 years since a man was brutally murdered for being gay... and on Sunday, the Montgomery community came together to honor him and others during the 15th annual Vigil for Victims of Hate and Violence.

Billy Jack Gaither was a homosexual man who went out with friends one night. He was beat to death for being gay. For the past 14 years, dozens stand together, like they did Sunday, so his death is not in vain.

Dozens gathered on the steps of the state capitol in response to the brutal murder of a Sylacauga man -- Billy Jack Gaither. Some, knew Gaither and shared what they believe happened to him.

"He was just a plain, ordinary, I'll use the term, southern gentleman," Said a friend of the victim's family, George Olsson.

"They basically attacked him and turned on him. He was beat with an ax-sandal, his body was burned and was killed and for those who think it can't happen around here, it does... and it did," Said Organizer and Chairperson of the Vigil for Victims of Hate and Violence, Amy Applegate.

Sunday, members of Alabama's Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-and-Transgender community honored Gaither during the 15th annual Vigil for Victims of Hate and Violence. They also rallied for other victims in hope of pushing new legislation to protect them in the Alabama State House.

Currently, Alabama's hate crime law does not include a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay rights activists say it's time for a change.

"The month, or the year, rather, that the individual was beaten to death because he was gay... it was reported there were no hate crimes in Alabama. And that's kind of what we're fighting," Said Olsson.

As for those who can no longer speak for themselves, this group of people is urging others to speak up when they see an injustice.

"It's not just your normal kind of average everyday murder even, they're just [an] extreme over-kill of hurting and people because of who they are and that should be unacceptable anywhere. That's not in God's love or God's law. And it's not acceptable for me and I think the state having that law... that just makes it easier for different people to get their rights," Said Sunshine Jeremiah Wolfe, who is a member on the planning committee for the annual vigil.

Activists say it's been a challenge to pass the bill so that victims, like Gaither, are protected against unwarranted violence -- but they tell us, they won't give up.

Each year the Billy Jack Gaither Humanitarian award is presented at the vigil. This year, Gwendolyn Manjarrez won for being active in Alabama's immigration reform.

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