Gaither's killing may add momentum to efforts to include sexual orientation in hate-crime legislation, though congressional Republicans have resisted creating federal hate-crime laws covering gays. Then there's the states; 40 have hate-crime laws, but only 21 cover gays. Meanwhile, in a society that remains conflicted over homosexuality, gay citizens increasingly fear for their lives.
Gay rights groups are drawing comparisons between the deaths of Billy Jack Gaither, a 39-year-old Alabama man, and that of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard. It's pretty hard not to. Both gay men, they were brutally slaughtered by young toughs who freely admitted they were motivated by their animosity toward their victim's sexuality. Gaither's killers told police they plotted his killing after the mild-mannered textile worker made a sexual advance. After luring him to secluded boat ramp February 19, the killers bludgeoned him with an ax handle and then put him on a pyre of burning tires. In Wyoming, Shepard's attackers led him from a bar, tied him to a fence and brutally beat him. Days later he was dead.