The Stories Project: Mary Wilson’s Story

Mary Wilson was a friend and peer of Rebecca Wight at Virginia Tech. All words below are hers unless specified otherwise.

TW: only brief mentions of death.

I don’t have too many memories with Rebecca. I lost touch with her after I moved to the West Coast in 1981. We went to school together when we were undergrads and then we went different directions. I’d see her around town and campus and we’d stop to chat sometimes. I can still see her now with her long black hair and big round glasses. I think she went by Becky back then. That’s the name I have in my mind when I think about her.

Becky was a good person with a good heart. She didn’t deserve what happened to her. Mostly what I remember is how fun she was to be around. It was hard not to like Becky. She was a little social butterfly. She had a lot of charisma. She was easygoing and open-minded – she’d try anything once! I admire the way she knew how to look at a situation, take a breath and say, “You know, it’s gonna be okay. It isn’t the end of the world.”

You’d never have been afraid of Becky. There’s no way anyone would’ve felt nervous to talk to Becky. She was so chatty and friendly. She wasn’t “Rebecca Wight” then, you know. Wait, that sounds silly. Of course she was always Rebecca Wight. What I’m trying to say is she wasn’t Rebecca Wight the icon, the symbol. She was a person like you and me. She was just Becky, just Rebecca. If you wanted to talk to her you could. She’d talk to you. She wasn’t unapproachable.

Okay, this is a silly memory. I have no idea why I thought of it. It has nothing to do with who Becky was as a person. For some reason I remember she thought oatmeal was disgusting. She didn’t like it and she wouldn’t eat it. I have no idea why I remember that! Maybe it’s because she was so open-minded. There weren’t many things she openly couldn’t stand. That was one of them I guess. It’s funny what you remember over the years.

I had no idea Becky died for a long time. I would’ve never guessed she died in such an awful way. I wish I’d stayed in touch with her, but I’ll always keep the memories I have with her close to my heart.

The Stories Project – Eve X’s Story

Eve X is a survivor of multiple traumas including abuse, rape, and same-sex intimate partner violence. In spite of everything, she wants people to know that she’s okay and living a good life. All words below are hers unless specified otherwise. All names and some identifying details, including the author’s, have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

TW: Rape, child abuse, intimate partner violence. Mentions of drinking, drugs, and sex.

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The Stories Project – The Rev. Rebecca Strader’s Story

These comments belong to the Reverend Rebecca Strader, Presbyterian Church (USA), pastor in Vermont. Following the murders of Julie Williams and Lollie Winans, it was she who revealed to the public after much soul-searching that the women were lesbians – a decision she was criticized for. All words below are hers unless specified otherwise.

TW: mentions of violence, murder.

My own journey has taken some turns in the intervening years since Julie and Lollie were murdered. The decision to give honest answers about Julie, rather than, “No comment,” was one that I would replicate. “No comment” as a way of citing confidentiality would have hinted at the same assumption, although also indicating that there was some shame involved. I imagine that not everyone would agree that I did the right thing. For that, I will remain eternally sorry.

It makes no sense, the violence that seems to come from a deep place in some people.  For a person to be “not male,” means that we are less worthy to be alive.  For a man to be gay appears to some people to be someone who rejected the male identity of someone who is “better than female.” For those people, there is no greater sin than being a gay male. Or being a lesbian who doesn’t accept her less-than role in life. 

I am fortunate to live in a state that has been a leader in rights for gays and lesbians.  Marriage is only one of the issues, but that institution has far-reaching implications for financial and familial security.  I still do not belong to a Christian denomination that will allow its clergy to officiate at same-gender marriages in a state that recognizes them.

I’m not sure that there will ever be enough evidence to convict the person who murdered Julie and Lollie.  But one day, I may again be summoned to Charlottesville, VA, to give testimony.  I am so sorry that the lives of two young women were cut short.  But I am glad that their gifts are remembered — not merely their “unfulfilled promise.”

The Stories Project: Christine Thomas’s Story

Christine Thomas was a friend and peer of Rebecca Wight at Virginia Tech who remembers her for her infectious optimism and zest for life. All words below are hers unless specified otherwise.

TW: death, murder.

Rebecca Wight was such a lovely soul and I regret not getting to know her better before she died. We attended Tech together; she was a bit younger than me but we ran in some of the same circles. We were both broke college students just trying to make it at the time, so I guess there was that! What I remember most about her was that she was always so full of life. Oodles of energy! She could talk so much about the things she was passionate about. And she never seemed daunted by life’s setbacks; she always carried herself like she knew it would all work out for her. She was so optimistic and had a great outlook on life, just a lovely, fun person to be around.

When Rebecca died, I found out because the girl I was sharing an apartment with was a mutual friend. It was late at night and she was in the living room reading the paper; I was in the kitchen. She called out to me – she said something like, “Chris, you’ve got to come see this” and then she showed me the paper. Twenty-eight-year-old Virginia Tech student Rebecca Wight shot and killed by an unknown gunman. We couldn’t believe it. I don’t remember being surprised when it came out that she was gay (I don’t mean that in a bad way – someone being gay just wasn’t a “big revelation” for me), but when it came out that it was anti-gay violence, that was scary. I’m not a lesbian, but I had friends who were and I know I worried about them more after this.

I think the memories I have of her are so clear because her death was so jarring. Rebecca was the first person I knew who was murdered and it was jarring to me, even though we’d never been especially close. I remember reading this article later where they described the guy who killed her as an artist and a nature lover and that made me so mad at that time. I was like, “What about Rebecca? She was the victim; why doesn’t anyone care what Rebecca was like?” I mean, she was a nature lover, too – who gives a damn about the killer?

I didn’t realize how much I missed her until I started reading these stories and all the memories came flooding back. No doubt the world is missing out by not having her in it – she would have done incredible things.

Edit (1/2015): Christine found this photo of Rebecca and asked that it be added to her story after being asked what she looked like. She doesn’t remember who took it or how it came into her possession and asks that if that person is reading, they let her know so she can credit them or remove the photo.

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