About a boy

It takes a certain kind of fortitude — a kind I know I lack — to be able to read about the murder of 15 year-old Lawrence King, and not stop in your tracks. In fact, I’ve been stopped in my tracks about it for over a week. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, here’s the gist: Lawrence King was a junior high school kid from Oxnard, CA (roughly 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles, a military/industrial/port town). He was recently “out” as gay, and had begun to come to school wearing articles of feminine clothing and make-up. He had been frequently subject to harassment from other boys at the school but had been, according to his friends, withstanding it without losing his self-respect or conviction.

On Monday last week he was in a lunchtime fight with several boys, including the one who would bring a gun to school with him the following day. At issue was King’s sexual orientation (so say student witnesses). Last Tuesday, in his first period computer class, in front of two dozen other classmates, Lawrence “Larry” King was shot in the head, twice. On Wednesday he was declared brain dead. He was taken off of life support, after his organs were harvested for donation, a week ago today. Brandon McInerney, the 14 year-old shooter, was apprehended later the same morning of the shooting, and currently awaits trial. (The prosecutor is seeking to try him as an adult, under a provision of California law that allows for adult trials for minors who commit serious crimes, but the Transgender Law Project and the National Center for Lesbian Rights oppose his being tried as anything but a child).

A public memorial service for Lawrence King is taking place this afternoon in Port Hueneme, the navy harbor town around which Oxnard wraps. Vigils in his name have been taking place coast-to-coast. The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s National Day of Silence, on April 25 this year, wil be held in his memory.

You can read more about the story at Pam’s House Blend (and again more recently here), or Republic of T, or at Towelroad, or a ton at The Bilerico Project.

It has been a fatiguing, disheartening experience, reading up on the story to research this post. I’d seen much of the information on harassment in elementary schools before. For instance, one Bilerico piece cited familiar statistics:

A 2004 report called “Safe Place to Learn” from the California Safe School Coalition showed that among all students, LGBT and straight, 27% reported being harassed for some type of gender non-conformity (not being “masculine” or “feminine” enough), and 46% of all students reported that their schools weer not safe for LGBT students.

The familiarity of these findings, however, does not blunt their impact. Same with the litany of LGBT hate crimes listed on the Violence against LGBT people Wikipedia page, linked to from the Wikipedia page on the incident. I’d read about many of the killings before, but of course mostly in the gay press. The murder of Rebecca Wight, out camping with her partner Claudia Brenner in Pennsylvania, has stayed with me since 1988, thereafter haunting what had been a sense of safety from social hatreds in the wilderness. The murders of Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill, in Southern Oregon, has stayed with me since 1995, and colored my sense of safety in the state a big chunk of my extended family grew up in, country I drove through repeatedly as a child en route to family gatherings. That, combined with Mathew Shephard’s murder, pretty much keeps my gender variant ass inside the car whenever we’ve driven through the mountain states. Emphasis on through. I let the femme sweetie go out and pay for the gas and arrange for the lodging, and pull the baseball hat down low.

Reading the whole list of murders and assaults on the Wikipedia Violence against LGBT people page, one after another after another, it was impossible to shake the impression that we are being assasinated. Gender variant and gay people are simply being assasinated.

Ironically, this week GroundSpark re-released the landmark documentary It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School in DVD format, including the follow-up documentary It’s STILL Elementary and a comprehensive teaching/ organizing guide.

Director Debra Chasnoff released a statement last week, in which she said,

Ten years ago we released the educational documentary It’s Elementary-Talking About Gay Issues in School and it helped spark a movement to make schools safer places for all children by encouraging K-8 teachers to weave respectful information about LGBT people into their lesson plans. Ironically, this week we are re-releasing this film because it’s time for a new generation of teachers to get on board to ensure that their schools and classrooms are safe for all students, including those like Lawrence King who don’t fit neatly in a box of the stereotype of how boys are supposed to be. We call on all educators in California, and across the nation, to recognize the seriousness of anti-gay bullying and take appropriate steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all their students.

Amen. Now I’m waiting for a presidential candidate to say diddly about this.

Still waiting.

All of the above mostly makes my stomach churn. It’s an innocent, simplistic thing, but because I can’t begin to imagine doing physical violence to another living creature, I don’t understand others who do. And I can’t imagine the taking of a life. For any reason. I can’t figure how in the hell I will ever be capable of explaining this to my kids, either. I’ve explained death already — our little girl speaks routinely and easily about people (or dogs) who are “spirits” and others who are “not spirits yet” — but I can’t figure how to explain this.

I think about a boy I know and one I know of, each of whom, if ever they find out about this killing, would be likely to go to school with even more fear for their safety. I can’t figure how I’d convince them that their fears are unfounded. Because I’d pretty much agree with them. California has a law, goddamn it, to protect kids exactly like Lawrence King. The California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in California public schools. But such laws (rare, still) are rendered meaningless if the school administration doesn’t wholeheartedly believe in them, doesn’t actively educate its teachers about them and provide them tools and support to enforce them, doesn’t actively promote a culture of tolerance and respect across the entire school community, doesn’t demonstrate, unequivocally, that all harassment is seriously dealt with. Because it affects the core mission of the school: a safe environment in which to learn. And simply, now, a safe environment, period.

And I think of my own boy, and the punishing visions of masculinity he’s growing up into. How will he listen to and nurture anything inside of him that is feminine? How could he possibly, with these stakes? And yet I can’t not do everything I can to preserve space around him in which he can listen to that part of himself. And then pray it doesn’t get him killed.

11 thoughts on “About a boy”

  1. Oh man…I hadn’t heard.
    It makes me think…how blessed I have been growing up in the area I did. I live in the East Bay, in the very suburban school system on Contra Costa County, and though there is was a level of tension to the coming out experience, I never feared for my safety. Growing up, especially if you don’t follow the news, it sort of makes you forget that many people across the nation don’t have it so good – still live in real fear.

    Wish the college level GSA’s, mine included, would recognize the need for networking with the elementary, middle, and high school to get anti-hate education into curriculum earlier on. We’re fine and dandy with college level class panels, but the seeds need to be planted earlier.

    Man, so many causes and only so much personal energy to attend to them.

  2. Your use of the word “assasinated”s stopped me cold in my tracks.

    The idea that you drive anywhere in this country in fear is so horribly wrong.

    And, I know this is ignorant, but I hadn’t ever heard before now about the violence against Lesbian women. I’d only heard about it towards men. It doesn’t make it OK, obviously – it’s just even more terrifying to think about.

  3. Studying Stones, not at all; absolutely; thank you.

    And kanga43 yes. College-level GSAs doing solidarity and support work at the K-12 level would have a huge impact, I would think. And also do a measure to help heal the college-age people of any lingering scars or injuries they brought with them when they graduated high school. The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network recommends four approaches that schools can begin implementing now to address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment:

      1. Adopt a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that enumerates categories such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression/identity. Enumeration is crucial to ensure that anti-bullying policies are effective for LGBT students. Policies without enumeration are no more effective than having no policy at all when it comes to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment, according to GLSEN’s 2005 National School Climate Survey.

      2. Require staff trainings to enable school staff to identify and address anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment effectively and in a timely manner.

      3. Support student efforts to address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment on campus, such as the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance or participation in the National Day of Silence on April 25.

      4. Institute age-appropriate, inclusive curricula to help students understand and respect difference within the school community and society as a whole.

    Buying and arranging screenings of Chasnoff’s documentary would be a great place to start energizing. Showing it at a GSA meeting (college-level or high school, say) would be a powerful catalyst. And I bet the Gay Straight Alliance Network has even more ideas.

  4. Oh my god, it is so amazing that someone else would see this story and note it and write about it.

    I knew Larry King–not terribly well, admittedly, but he was in my mother’s class and I always knew her students decently well during the year and sometimes on into their future lives. My mother called me, the day it happened, around 3pm when I was still in class: she was crying uncontrollably, absolutely hysterical, and I couldn’t get anything out of her other than “Larry’s dead, he’s dead, they shot him.” It took me a minute to reach back in my memory and know who she was talking about. But I recall him. He was a cute kid, smart, kind, a terrible home situation that I’m probably not allowed to talk about. A tragic story, like so many in a poor area filled with gangs and domestic violence and bad foster care and so forth.

    I knew so many like Larry, so many kids I liked and talked to and helped do art projects. You get close do them despite your best judgment, because in that part of town you always know that so many tragic stories are just going to go on being tragic stories, maybe for generation. But jesus christ, Larry was going to do it. He was going to overcome everything and be all right. My mother worked very hard with him, to get him a better life and make sure he did okay in school. She was the only other person, besides his parents, on the emergency contact card–she went to the hospital to see him, to see if it was true, afterward.

    Besides that, though, and more on topic, the GLBT aspect frightened the hell out of my mother. We know our town, of course, but these were both kids she knew and taught, in schools that my parents have worked at and been administrators of. I think she was kind of shocked that I had come out where and how I did. It actually wasn’t that hard for me, blessedly, but there is a lot of ignorance and hatred where I come from, and I was conscious of that and it affected my decision greatly.

    I hope this sparks something that will lead to elementary and junior high schools being a safer place in Oxnard. I still know plenty of people going to those schools, even some that were present in the room that terrible day. I hope that Larry’s death won’t just be a cruel, tragic event and will actually motivate something positive for the community.

  5. This is a very well written article – thank you for sharing your feelings and research on this story. I heard about it and have been wearing a heavy cloak of sadness for the events that transpired. While i was looking into the story – I googled and found some hateful, hateful message on the “Godlike” message board. They ended up on my blog as I struggled to come to terms with this situation and what I could do about it.

    Children learn to hate from adults that are full of hatred themselves — one day we will evolve to become human. We are all human beings with more in common then not. WE have to make it so one lesson of tolerance and acceptance at a time.


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  7. I’ve read about this story online and it just breaks my heart. at his age, I just found out that I am a lesbian and for the last five years that I’ve spent going to school, I was not out, except for the few friends I had in my class. thankfully, I did not have to fear for my life, as in Austria, it is really hard to get a gun and “only” about 150 people get killed every year. I haven’t heard of any lgbt-murders in the last few years in Austria. sometimes, I think that I could live my life more freely in America or Canada, as such things as gay-straight-alliances don’t exist in Austria. People generally don’t talk about homosexuality and, even though most European countries have already changed laws to make them less intolerant, Austria is still oposing this trend. However, I am thankful that I do not have to fear murder because of my sexual orientation. I am not entirely out, as it is hard for me to trust ppl I just met at university and to be honest straight away. but even if someone doesn’t accept me the way I am, chances are I’m still not going to get kill.

    I am so sorry for what happend to Lawrence King. This story makes me feel so sad and yet also really mad at the world we are living in. The great United States of America say they are the greatest democracy and the advocates of Human Rights – meanwhile, the american society seems so full of fear and hate, it just breaks my heart. I highly support all the organisations working so hard for acceptance and I think that each one of us can do a small thing by just talking to ppl and trying to get them to be more tolerant. but when I read about your fears when driving through america, I get the feeling that there isn’t so much hope for change left and that makes me sad.

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