Cleaning out her closet

Chris Azzopardi

DETROIT – Two years ago Eminem's uncle Todd, the man who helped raise Eminem after the rapper's father left, died from a gunshot wound to the head. New Baltimore police said it was suicide; Eminem's mother and Todd's sister, Debbie Nelson, says it was a hate crime.
"I found forged suicide notes in the glove compartment of his car," Nelson says. "He [the detective] told me, 'If you mention this, we'll get you for tampering [with evidence].'"
Police officers continuously changed their stories, she says, eventually concluding Todd killed himself over depression and told Nelson, 50, not to get involved. Because of her devotion to her brother, who she says gave her clues that he was gay, she continued to pursue the case.
"They [police officers] even said at one time, 'Who the hell was this guy anyway? He was no one,'" she recalls. "I'm still working on it, though. If I have my way, if it takes me the rest of my life, I'll prove that he was murdered."
Although the police didn't explain to Nelson their lack of investigation, the cops told her it was because of who he was. She takes a deep sigh and says, "I had a good idea what they were talking about." Her younger brother, Ronnie, allegedly committed suicide in 1991. Nelson believes he was also murdered.
Even though her estranged relationship with Eminem (real name Marshall Mathers) is difficult, it doesn't compare to the emotional regret she suffers from her brothers' deaths. "It ate away at me really bad," she says.
It's through her fight for answers about her brothers and her feeling of frustration that sparked Nelson's interest in working with Triangle Foundation as a public spokeswoman on hate crimes in the gay community.
"I want to take and help in any way, shape or form," she says. "I always told my kids growing up you have to give everyone a chance no matter [if someone is] red, black, yellow, white. You're going to meet a lot of people in your life and [you should] get to know that person whether they're different from you."
While Nelson attended high school in a segregated Missouri town, she became hated for befriending several blacks and gays. "I didn't care," says Nelson, who lives in Detroit. "I was called names. I was a rebel."
Nelson believes the acceptance of gays in society hasn't changed much from her days in high school. "I've been hated on forever just because people don't understand. I can fill in someone's shoes that is gay in retrospect because of how I've been treated," she says, breaking off a piece from a chocolate chip cookie.
The taste is sweet, but Nelson couldn't say the same for her own life. "I've been robbed, I've been run off the road, I've been shot at," she says. Nelson is also dealing with cancer, what she says are false accusations from the film "8 Mile," in which Kim Basinger plays her as an unfit mother, and Eminem's scathing remarks in his music, which used to frequently refer to "faggots."
When Eminem's use of "faggot" spread rumors that he was anti-gay, Nelson stood up for him by going on "The Sally Jessy Raphael Show." She assured the public that his use of the word wasn't out of hatred but was a word he called his brother Nathan when they were younger without fully understanding the meaning.
Although Nelson supported her son, negativity circulated about her as his songs like "Cleanin' Out My Closet," which rips on her ruthless mothering skills, saturated radio stations. She became a joke and a monster in the public eye.
"There are two sides to every coin," Nelson says. "You got one side out there, but you don't have the other side … I'm not a bad person."
In "8 Mile" Nelson is portrayed as a drug abuser, alcoholic and a mother who has sex with her sons' friends.
"Because of how she was depicted … I've heard some comments, even in the gay community, a couple times, [saying] 'I hate that bitch,'" Nelson's publicist Neal Alpert says. "People will make comments and they don't even know her. We shouldn't, especially as gay people, pass judgment on anybody until we know a person."
After the movie's release, Nelson began getting spat on, knocked down in the mall and hollered at in the streets and was eventually carjacked on the infamous Eight Mile Road – where Proof, Eminem's best friend and D12 rapper, was gunned down earlier this month.
"It got to where I'd just stay home," she says, comparing life to living in a shell. "I don't pass judgment and I don't think anyone else should. Nobody died and left anybody God."
It's the hatred she's experienced that's helped her relate to the gay community. "Not only have I experienced the hatred," she says, "I've seen it, and I don't like it."

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