In the two years since their 25-year-old son was stabbed to death in what police have called a gay-hate crime, Lynn and Pat Mulder have been embraced by gay activists, and they have hugged them right back.
But the trial of Joseph Bearden -- the first of two men charged with murder in the death of Ryan Keith Skipper -- has created a quandary for both the Mulders and gay-rights activists.
The Mulders want justice for their child. Gays want to bring attention to the case as a crime against their community.
Lynn Mulder said Assistant State Attorney Cass Castillo advised him that any conspicuous presence by the gay community, inside the courtroom or demonstrating outside the courthouse, could jeopardize the trial, which began Monday in Bartow. So the Mulders are asking them to show their support, but silently, unobtrusively. Until the trial is over, they're being asked to become invisible and voiceless.
"The jury cannot be influenced in their decision by any demonstration of support," Mulder said. "My only concern is they [the gay community] ought not to be easily identified as supporting one side or the other."
This is particularly problematic for Vicki Nantz, whose documentary on Skipper's killing, Accessory to Murder, is largely responsible for publicizing his death and making him the face of hate crimes against gays in Florida. But she is among those in the local gay community who have developed a close relationship with the Mulder family.
"If I didn't love Pat and Lynn Mulder, I would be standing there with a sign," Nantz said. "But the people most inclined to demonstrate have a personal relationship with Lynn and Pat, and that comes first with all of us. We'll put our activist hats in the drawer until this gets resolved for Lynn and Pat."
Before Skipper's killing March 17, 2007, the Mulders were not involved in gay issues. Since that time, they've become gay-rights activists -- appearing at protest rallies and events, joining gay organizations and offering solace to other parents whose children have been victims of crimes against gays.
"To the Mulders' credit, they have really stepped forward at a time when they could have simply withdrawn and become embittered," said Nadine Smith, head of Equality Florida, a gay-rights organization. "Instead they have been beacons of hope and kindness. They have really spoken out against hate violence."
Just as the Mulders have been there for the gay community, gays have been inclined to be there for the Mulders.
Nantz said she intends to be in the courtroom for the trial, keeping her emotions in check. Nantz has asked other gay activists to do the same.
"Everyone feels kind of conflicted. It's a conflict because the hate-crime anger is so personal for so many people," she said.
Gay groups, such as Equality Florida, also are encouraging their members to honor the wishes of the Mulders. But the urge to be there, to be vocal and demonstrate for justice, is a natural reaction, Smith said.
"There is a lot of anxiety that justice will not prevail, because we've seen it fail before," Smith said.