I’ve wanted to write something about the murder of Larry King for a while now. But it’s been more than a year since his murder, and I haven’t written anything substantive yet. I started a couple of blog posts, and even began working on an entry for the LGBT Hate Crimes Project (despite my usual aversion to writing about things I know have been thoroughly covered elsewhere).
But every time I started, as some point I found myself backing away from the story the way I might back away from a fire or someone wielding a weapon. Something in me instinctively knew that immersing myself in Larry’s story, as I usually do when I’m researching a hate crime story, would be painful, and would probably bring back memories I’d long tried to forget as much as possible.
As the anniversary of his murder approached last year, I wanted to have something ready to post about his story. Again, some of it felt too painful, and I had to stop and focus on something else. So often, in fact, that the anniversary of Larry’s death came and went before I finished anything. B
ut in the course of writing I discovered what it was that was that made thinking and writing about Larry’s murder so painful.
It that, in what I was reading about King, I saw much of my own experience at that age. And, besides the painful memories that the research led me to revisit, I was troubled by something else: How little things have changed in our school, at least in some important ways, and how quick people were to blame Larry — and the only people who had actually shown him acceptance and support — for his murder.
It’s one thing to hear the likes of NARTH advocating that school officials allow students to ridicule their LGBT classmates (specifically those students who, like Larry, whose identity blurs gender likes), because that ridicule may be enough to keep students like Larry within the “necessary limits.”
I posted about this in the previous QKos roundup, but my mind has kept coming back to the story about NARTH basically endorsing letting students bully their gender atypical peers back into “that necessary boundary.”
A coalition of organisations monitoring groups claiming to convert gay people back to heterosexuality, have criticised the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH) after a member advocated teasing transgender children to “re-establish that necessary boundary.”
NARTH Scientific Advisory Committee member Joseph Berger said on a blog in reaction to a San Francisco Chronicle article on gender identity issues, “I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex – but not counselling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings.”
“On the contrary, don’t interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world. “Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary.”
I actually kind of have to thank NARTH, because they’ve answered a question that’s long bothered me, even though I think I’ve known the answer all along.
But to hear that sentiment essentially echoed by people in the media — both gay and non-gay — was something else entirely. “If only,” they seemed to be saying, “Larry had been shown less acceptance, if only he’d been pressured or even forced to repress himself more, conform more, he’d be alive today.” (Well, at least he wouldn’t have been killed by that particular kid on that particular day.)
It’s all best encapsulated in Ramin Setodeh’s Newsweek article on Larry’s murder, “Young, Gay and Murdered.”
The Larry King shooting became the most prominent gay-bias crime since the murder of Matthew Shepard 10 years ago. But despite all the attention and outrage, the reason Larry died isn’t as clear-cut as many people think. California’s Supreme Court has just legalized gay marriage. There are gay characters on popular TV shows such as “Gossip Girl” and “Ugly Betty,” and no one seems to notice. Kids like Larry are so comfortable with the concept of being openly gay that they are coming out younger and younger. One study found that the average age when kids self-identify as gay has tumbled to 13.4; their parents usually find out a year later.
What you might call “the shrinking closet” is arguably a major factor in Larry’s death. Even as homosexuality has become more accepted, the prospect of being openly gay in middle school raises a troubling set of issues. Kids may want to express who they are, but they are playing grown-up without fully knowing what that means. At the same time, teachers and parents are often uncomfortable dealing with sexual issues in children so young. Schools are caught in between. How do you protect legitimate, personal expression while preventing inappropriate, sometimes harmful, behavior? Larry King was, admittedly, a problematical test case: he was a troubled child who flaunted his sexuality and wielded it like a weapon—it was often his first line of defense. But his story sheds light on the difficulty of defining the limits of tolerance. As E. O. Green found, finding that balance presents an enormous challenge.
The Advocate even got in on the act.
If they didn’t see the execution coming, most of King’s peers at school knew he was being bullied for being proudly gay and flouting male conventions by accessorizing his school uniform with eye shadow and high-heeled boots. In the months leading up to that morning, King had undergone a metamorphosis. Guided by a welcoming support system at the group home where he lived, the teenager was encouraged to dress as he pleased and live as the person he wanted to be. What King and others didn’t recognize was that this encouragement—and his response to it—placed him on a collision course with a culture that found him repulsive.
Even before his death, Larry King was notorious. He was the sassy gay kid who bragged about his flashy attire and laughed off bullying, which for him included everything from name-calling to wet paper towels hurled in his direction. King was an easy target—he stood 5 foot 4 and was all of 100 pounds.
…As wonderful as this encouragement sounds, did it put Larry in harm’s way by sending him out in a world not ready for him? It may be beyond the capacity of kids to reconcile a tolerant atmosphere like Casa Pacifica with the xenophobic, conformist nature of school. Children like Brandon McInerney are products of their society, one that simply does not know what to do with a boy in heels.
Oh, but that society knows just what to do with a boy in high heels, when they meet him. In fact, the boy doesn’t even have to be in high heels. The “culture that finds him repulsive” will recognize him anyway, and deal with him if left alone to do it (as the NARTH spokesperson suggested) the comments posted on articles about the murder trial
Posted by West_to_East on February 11, 2009 at 6:48 a.m. (Suggest removal)
I dont feel sorry for Larry one bit, If he didn’t make gay comments to the kid it would of never happen. I mean I don’t wish death on anyone and the actions from this kid are extreme and deserves punishment but the paper is the paper and always makes the story seem harsh then what it really is. So everyone read the past stories and see that they went over board on this story making Larry and innocent bystander.
Posted by AnnaWhaat on February 11, 2009 at 7:21 a.m. (Suggest removal)
Gay doesn’t have anything to do with it, BUT when you constantly tease someone and ask them to the prom and to be your valentine, knowing that person isn’t gay and embarrass them to the point of his friends all teasing him then I can see a person loosing all control mentally. He tried to get help for the harrassment BUT NO ONE at the school did a darn thing to stop it. I feel thier is a double standard here. And No he barely turned 14 like three weeks before the shooting. Yes he deserves punishment BUT not to be tried as an adult. Obviously these adult teachers didn’t do a darn thing to help!
Posted by American_Sentinel on February 11, 2009 at 8:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)
Brandon committed a horrific crime and should be punished as may be appropriate. Not only did he kill Larry King, his actions surely caused long term psychological damage to the teacher and other students who were in the classroom at the time of the shooting. However, until all evidence has been presented in court, I don’t know what crime he committed.
I do believe that middle school is too early to indoctrinate children into alternative lifestyles, such as homosexuality. Tolerance should be taught, but to have homosexuality thrust upon one who might find it disgusting, possibly due to being molested by a homosexual as a child, is something else. It has been my contention from day one that the then vice-principal, herself a lesbian activist, other school administrators, Rainbow Alliance and staff at Casa Pacifica share blame as to what happened. Larry was used as a tool to support their social agenda and the consequences were not weighed before feeding him to the wolves. Regardless of what some judge says, there comes a time when people have to do the right thing, even if they risk their jobs by doing so. To have allowed Larry’s bizarre style of dress and makeup as a special exception in a school that had a dress code was irresponsible at best.
Once all the facts are on the table, and if the judge doesn’t throw out relevant information based on legal technicalities, I’ll form an opinion in the case.
Posted by normaldude on February 11, 2009 at 9:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)
Just wait , this young man will walk, WHY?
because the school district incourged this homosexual youth to flaunt his homosexuality and push his lifestyle back on others.
want to know why prop 8 passed???? because people are tired of the homosexual agenda being pushed on them every day.
what this child did was wrong, what the school district did was even more criminal just watch, the jury will release him
Posted by gonzo on February 11, 2009 at 10:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)
Are you gay? Do you identify with Larry? Do you think that gay sexual harrasment was his right? Perhaps you dont understand that straight folks would rather not be confronted with gay harrasment. Doing so such could incite rage and violence. Try going to a biker bar and hitting on a Hells Angel repeatedly, you could end up dead and someone in jail for a very long time. I would assume you would agree that this is not a Good Idea. It is your right to do what you want but it is irresponsible to do so. Larry did this repeatedly and he picked the wrong person to pick on. Now I dont think Larry deserved to die mind you but he did endanger himself and create this mess.
That’s just a sampling from one article, and then, only as far as I could stand to read in the comments, before a particular kind of darkness descended on my mind, and I found myself half wishing something that also made it into the comments on that article.
Posted by NightLight on February 11, 2009 at 12:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)
Some have suggested that if the races and sexual orientation of the boys had been different, some people’s reaction would be different. Here is another scenario. A teenaged middle school boy sexually harasses a teenaged middle school girl. No physical violence, but verbal harassment and lewd comments that humiliate her in front of her friends and classmates. School administrators don’t intervene, either they don’t want to get involved or they have the “boys will be boys” mentality. The girl can’t take it anymore, brings a gun to class, and shoots the boy dead. What do you think the public reaction would be in that case? Those who are saying Larry brought it on himself, would they be saying the same thing about the boy in this case?
I admit it. In some dark corner of my heart I half-hoped that straight women would start packing heat, and put one between the eyes of the next guy who won’t let up and take “no” for an answer.
That darkness is a familiar one, because I was a lot like Larry King as a kid. Mind you, I wasn’t just like him. Larry had problems — psychological problems, and problems at home — that I didn’t. If it’s true that he was diagnosed With Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD),then that adds a whole layer of issues that would factor into his interactions with everyone in his life, including his peers. I tend to disagree, though, with assertions that because he may have struggled with RAD, Larry may not have “really” been gay or transgendered or female-identified, but just using it to “get attention,” as one therapist put it. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that he was gay or trans and had RAD, and that his sexual orientation already made him a target, but RAD made him “over the top.”
But I know what it’s like to be an effeminate, non-athletic gay boy in middle school. I came out when I was around the same age Larry was when he came. (Actually, Larry was a couple of years ahead in that regard.) Like Larry, I was obvious enough that I couldn’t really be anything but “out.” I was too easy to spot. And, like Larry, I suffered for it
I was a gay kid. Actually, I was a flaming, over the top gay kid who just couldn’t help being flaming and over the top. And for years I caught unholy hell for it. After coming out—at 13, a mistake in retrospect—I was suicidal and homicidal. I came home depressed and angry every day. I’m not sure I’ve ever completely gotten over those years, or put them behind me.
It was the 80’s, the Reagan years, and I was in the South, going to school in a pretty rural area. I didn’t have many places to turn, any indication that anyone—even an adult—would take my side if I asked for help. My parents weren’t much help either. If I told them what the kids at school were calling me, the response was “Well, you’re not. Are you?” And it was pretty clear my answer had better be “no.” On the issue of homosexuality, their only advice was to tell me to read the Bible. (Specifically some part of Leviticus, and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.) So, I was on my own physically and emotionally, against some pretty tough kids. It got to the point where I flunked phys. ed. because I refused to go into the locker room anymore, knowing what I’d have to face there.
One day, my mom overheard me saying that I wanted to take a gun to school, blow away my classmates and then use it on myself. And I knew there was a gun somewhere in the house. I just don’t know if I would actually have done it. I didn’t get the chance to find out. To my mom’s credit, that statement landed me in a therapist’s office. I told him at the beginning of the first session that I was gay and I wasn’t there to change that. After he got over the shock of hearing this from a kid my age he said “Let’s just work on the whole person and let that part fall into place where it will.”
The point is, I caught a lucky break. I could have used an anti-bullying program. It might have saved me a lot of needless pain. Things turned out alright for me anyway, but there were kids then who were worse off than me, who didn’t catch the same kind of breaks. A lot of them didn’t make it. There are gay kids today who have it worse than I did, and a lot of them don’t make it either.
Larry, believe it not, caught a lucky break. He manage to find people who accepted him for who he was, and encouraged him to be himself. Someone finally told him, “It’s okay.” And Larry probably felt something he’d never felt before; a bit more free to be himself. To understand what that’s like, you have to know what it’s like to not to have that freedom most of the time.
I don’t know how to explain it, and it’s taken me a day to get used to the idea that we’re in an environment where our families are completely welcome and completely accepted. Most LGBT people know the feeling. It’s the one you got at your first Pride parade or the first time you were in a room full of gay people. For everyone else, I can only describe it this way. Imagine that all your life, you’ve worn a a pair of shoes about a size and half too small. In fact, if you have a pair of too-small shoes, go put them on and walk around for a couple of hours. Maybe all day, even. Wear them until they start to hurt, and then keep wearing them for a while.
Then take them off. Doesn’t that feel good? Now imagine that after a couple of hours you have to put them back on again and keep them on, for days, weeks, maybe even months before you can take them off again.
The problem, even according to some gay people seemed to be that someone told Larry he could take those shoes off, how often he took them off, and where he took them off — instead of that he should never have had to wear them in the first place.
The consensus seemed to be that Larry “brought this on himself” and that someone allowed him to do so or failed to stop him from doing so — instead of that harassment (let alone death) shouldn’t have been the consequence for being Larry. But it is.
People need not have worried. Larry’s classmates were already carrying out the time-honored schoolyard tradition they will go on to uphold as adults: that of policing gender.
Homophobia has extensive effects on males whatever their sexual orientation (Kimmel 1994, Plummer 1999). You will recall that powerful homophobic codes enter boys’ repertoires during mid-primary school – prior to sexual maturity, prior to puberty, prior to forming their adult sexual identity and prior to having much, if any knowledge of what homosexuality is. You will also recall that homophobic accusations are often based on non-sexual ‘surrogate markers’ rather than evidence of sexual activity. Throughout adult life, homophobia continues to exert an influence over men in general. For example, aversion to things tainted by homophobia creates barriers and ‘no go zones’ – certain foods are considered suspect (not just ‘fairy- bread’!), certain drinks are considered too ‘poofy’ (especially if they are low-alcohol or come with umbrellas!), safety precautions in the workplace are ‘for fags’, small cars and driving below the speed limit are for wimps and poofs, and so on. Homophobia comprehensively influences how men present themselves to others, their social networks and their education, career and life patterns. Moreover, in doing so, homophobia exerts pressures that enforce conformity, that restricts men and which limits their potential. For example, the ability to express certain emotions is restrained by homophobia –the loss of face involved in relinquishing control over one’s emotions is deeply incriminating.
They get that job very early, in part because adults give it to them.
Today, every time that homophobic school bullying hits the news — capped by the recent murder of 15-year-old Lawrence King at an Oxnard junior high school — I think back to 1949. That moment when I threw the punch was a turning point of my life. If I hadn’t taken a stand, I might have stayed a tiny ball of misery. Bullying has been part of school life forever. Teasing targeted anything imaginable, from race or religion to the size of your ears. But bullies always pushed extra-hard on any nonconformity on sexual orientation or gender. Today that push of theirs has gotten horrendously blatant. As the LGBT rights movement grows in national influence, it’s no accident that school bullying has gotten so bad. The bullies know they’ve been given the job of morals police without badges. Church leaders and conservative politicians don’t give a damn that kids like Lawrence King are killed. They actually oppose the passage of “safety at school” laws protecting LGBT students, because they know the bullies act as a deterrent to coming out at school. And the bullies know they will often get away with their crimes.
For the last decade, activists have worked to stop the rising tide of bullying. They pass laws, launch school policies and programs, do counseling and establish zero tolerance. Cops patrol the hallways, confiscate weapons and arrest offenders. Courts can and do issue restraining orders against bullies.
But there’s one thing we haven’t done yet. We haven’t done enough to help the bullied student deal with the problem effectively in person.
No matter how protective your school or community might be, the moment often comes when you’re alone with your tormentors. The courts aren’t there to help you. The principal isn’t there. Your friends aren’t there. You have to handle things yourself, in the moment. What do you do?
What do you do?
Like I said, I wasn’t Larry King, but I remember what it was like to be in his shoes; to be one person, up against a group of who not only had numbers on their side, but who were bigger and stronger than you, and to literally have no one on your side? What do you do?
Never a “big” person, with no “hidden strength of violence,” I learned to fight with words. But words are only weapons if your tormentors are smart enough to understand what you’re saying. That’s not usually the case.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t handy with them — in their own way, and when they wanted to be — even if eloquence and wit were missing from their arsenal. I remember once I went to a teacher because I was upset about what I’d found written about me (again) on the walls of the boy’s restroom. All she did was offer me a sponge and cleaner to wipe the words off the walls. I guess she thought she was “empowering” me in some way. I did clean the words off the wall, but while I did so, I wondered if the teacher had even guessed what I already knew: those words would appear again on those very walls. And they did, less than a day later, and in permanent marker instead of ballpoint. (I guess one of my anonymous tormentors had a wit or two about him.) The words would be there until the other boys stopped writing them. And for them to stop writing them, someone else would have to stop them one way or another.
Nobody stopped them. I remember once I was being harassed, called names, while I was in the restroom. I returned to class visibly upset, and a teacher noticed. She asked what was wrong, and I told her. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell her what they were calling me. She assumed it was racial, and read them the riot act. I didn’t say anything, but at least they left me alone for a few days after that.
That’s the closest anyone came to stopping it. Sometimes I would just avoid it. There was the semester when I failed phys. ed., because I simply wouldn’t “dress out” for class. I’d forget my clothes or feign illness, because I was determined not to go back into that locker room, where the taunts went beyond words and became physical.
I finally left the school. I knew the high school I was zoned for would be hell for me, so I auditioned and got in to the performing arts magnet school in our area. The first semester of eight grade was winding down when the magnet school called to tell me that my grades and audition scores put me at the top of the waiting list, and a spot had become open. Did I want to start in the middle of 8th grade, or finish out the year at my old school?
I left. I admit, I made a point of showing how glad I was to be leaving, and told someone — maybe one of my teachers — why I really wanted to leave. It got back to the guidance counselor, and asked to meet with me. He wanted to know why I was leaving and why I’d been bullied so. I tried to explain that the students made fun of everything about me, because everything about me was “gay.” From the way I talked to the way I always had my nose in a book to the way I walked. Nothing about me was the way a boy was “supposed to be.” The guidance counselor had me walk across the room for him. I did. He couldn’t see what was wrong with the way I walked. And that was it.
I’m not sure that school officials ever understood what I was dealing with, or that I was capable of making them understand. The response I always got was either that I should “toughen up,” that “these things happen,” and that “it’s just part of growing up.” That may all be true, but for a kid who’s going through it alone, not of that matters. We just want it to stop.
But the response to Larry’s death went beyond the usual “toughen up” or “it’s all just a part of growing up” response, and instead seemed to put the onus upon kids like Larry to essentially knuckle under to that “culture that found him repulsive,” to appease it as much as possible, in the hopes that you’ll be left alone.
But we’re not left alone. And, like Larry, when you’re outmatched in the physical strength department, and words don’t work. You fight back with whatever weapon you have in your arsenal, Sometimes, the only weapon.
Setodeh wrote that Larry “wielded” his sexuality “like a weapon” and that it was “his first line of defense.” Well, it may have been his only weapon, and his only line of defense against a group of boys who tormented him. According to the prosecutor, though, Larry was not the aggressor in this case, but instead opted for this tactic when the teasing and harassment became too much for him
Lawrence “Larry” King wasn’t sexually harassing fellow eighth-grade student Brandon McInerney in the weeks leading up to King’s shooting death, prosecutors contend in court documents.
McInerney was the aggressor, teasing the effeminate King for weeks and vowing to “get a gun and shoot” him, according to a prosecution brief. Multiple students provided accounts of a growing hostility between the two boys, the document shows.
…King’s death struck a chord with parents, teachers, students and gay-rights advocates concerned that McInerney’s alleged bullying of King had been minimized by school authorities.
Since King’s death, teachers have sought training in how to identify gay and lesbian students who might be struggling with their sexual identity. Teachers also have asked for resources to help students who have already come out or who may be experiencing bullying.
In her statement of facts, Fox contends that King and McInerney had an acrimonious relationship for months prior to the shooting. They sparred with “typical 8th grade, back-and-forth insults; some sexual, some not,” she wrote.
Witnesses said King was usually not the aggressor. But after months of teasing by McInerney and other male students who called him “faggot,” he had began to retort, according to prosecutors.
The day before the shooting, the two boys were bickering during seventh period. When King left, a student witness said that McInerney commented, “I’m going to shoot him.”
Just after that class, another student heard King say “I love you” to McInerney as they passed in a hallway. The same student then heard McInerney say he was “going to get a gun and shoot” King, according to prosecutors.
A few minutes later, prosecutors allege, McInerney told one of King’s friends: “Say goodbye to your friend Larry because you’re never going to see him again.”
Again, I know something about the position King was in; harassed both verbally and physically on a daily basis by a group of boys who had numbers, physical strength, popularity, and something else on their side. And I had no one on mine. And, like Larry, I used the one weapon in my arsenal to give back at least some of what I was getting. I was never going to be able to beat these guys in a physical fight, or probably even put a scratch on any of them. (In fact, if I’d literally scratched them that would prove I was a “faggot,” because only girls scratch.) I couldn’t beat them in the only other area that seemed to matter where middle school masculinity was at stake: the sports field. They were secure in their popularity, and in their place in the middle school universe, at least moreso than I was. They could count on more kids laughing at their antics than I could any of them taking my side.
And I couldn’t hide from them. I avoided them as much as possible. I took to reading under a tree at recess, to make myself as invisible as possible. (Probably where I developed my love of reading, which remains strong to this day.) Later, I became a library assistant (something no other boy in my school apparently wanted to do), and spent my recesses inside, shelving books. But there were stairwells, and hallways, and restrooms, and locker rooms, and even classrooms where I couldn’t hide.
So, yeah, I used the one weapon I had that could intimidate them at least a little: my sexuality. I flirted with them, mockingly, making it clear that I was giving them back some of their own. Whether they took it seriously, I don’t know, but my guess is that it was the biggest threat to their adolescent manhood a the time, and caused them to fear being perceived as reciprocating, or perhaps even wanting to reciprocate.
Was it dangerous? Yup. Could it have thrown gasoline on the fire? Certainly. Did it make my tormentors even angrier? Uh-huh. But what was my other option? I couldn’t count on an adult to take my side, since I couldn’t count on them to see it, let alone stop it, when it was happening right in front of them. I
n my queer little pre-teen mind, it seemed the only option was to either fight back however I could, or just take it.
It’s quite possible he wasn’t the aggressor, since just doesn’t take much to make a kid like me or a kid like Larry a target. It doesn’t take make-up like Larry wore, or high heels, or anything overt. It can be something as simple as the way you walk or talk, or simply getting caught looking in the wrong person’s direction. They don’t need any overt provocation.
There’s a song that I have on my iPod, in one of the playlists I listen to whenever I need a lift. When I first heard it years ago, in Atlanta, a drag queen was lip syncing lyrics that spoke to me so much that I spent the next couple of days tracking down the song.
It was “I’m Beautiful Dammit,” by Uncanny Alliance. (A song I just bet Larry would have loved, and probably did if he heart it.)
Part of the lyrics go something like this.
Ain’t this my sun?
Ain’t this my moon?
Ain’t this my world to be who I choose?
Ain’t this my sun?
Ain’t this my moon?
Ain’t this my world to be who I choose?
I’m not too short,
I’m not too tall,
I’m not too big,
I’m not too small.
Ooh, don’t lemme start lovin’ myself!
Ooh, don’t lemme start lovin’ myself!
I’m not too white,
I’m not too black,
I’m not too this,
I’m not too that.
Ooh, don’t lemme start lovin’ myself!
Ooh, don’t lemme start lovin’ myself!
But, to kids like Larry was and like was, the answer was and apparently still is, “No, this ain’t your world. It’s theirs. You just live in it.” But if it’s dangerous to be who you are, you don’t live in it, so much as survive it. You put on a brave face, sometimes.
I knew it. Every kid who’s been picked on or bullied knows it. Anyone who’s every been called “nigger,” “faggot,” “bitch,” “kike,” “hebe,” “yid,” “Polack,” “Wetback,” “Guido,” “Spic,” “Chink,” “Gimp,” etc. knows it. I don’t care how many times we were told, “Ignore it. It’s just names and names can’t hurt you,” we all knew then and know now that — contrary to the old adage — names can and do hurt.
Psychologists found memories of painful emotional experiences linger far longer than those involving physical pain.
They quizzed volunteers about painful events over the previous five years.
…The volunteers, all students, were asked to write about painful experiences, both physical and emotional, then given a difficult mental test shortly afterwards.
The principle was that the more painful the recalled experience, the less well the person would perform in the tests.
Test scores were consistently higher in those recalling physical rather than “social” pain.
Psychological scoring tests revealed that memories of emotional pain were far more vivid.
And it’s worse for gay you, even deadly if you have no support.
“Parents love their children and want the best for them,” said lead researcher Caitlin Ryan, a social worker who directs the university’s Family Acceptance Project. “Now that we have measured all these behaviors, we can see that some of them put youth at extremely high risk and others are wellness-promoting.”
Among other findings, the study showed that teens who experienced negative feedback were more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide, nearly six times as vulnerable to severe depression and more than three times at risk of drug use.
More significantly, Ryan said, ongoing work at San Francisco State suggests that parents who take even baby steps to respond with equanimity instead of rejection can dramatically improve a gay youth’s mental health outlook.
One of the most startling findings was that being forbidden to associate with gay peers was as damaging as being physically beaten or verbally abused by their parents in terms of negative feedback, Ryan said.
In the two-part study, Ryan and her colleagues first interviewed 53 families with gay teenagers to identify 106 specific behaviors that could be considered “accepting” or “rejecting.” For example, blaming a youth for being bullied at school, shielding him from other relatives or belittling her appearance for not conforming to social expectations fell into the rejecting category.
Next, they surveyed 224 white and Latino gay people between ages 21 and 25 to see which of the behaviors they had experienced growing up. The responses then were matched against the participants’ recent histories of severe depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse and unsafe sexual behavior.
While the results might seem intuitive, Ryan said the study, funded by the California Endowment, was the first to establish a link between health problems in gay youths and their home environments.
She has used the information in workshops with parents and other caregivers who have strained relationships with their gay teenagers, and said many were alarmed enough to make immediate changes in their interactions.
That need for acceptance often extends beyond the family, because if the kid doesn’t find it there he or she has to look beyond the family to get it. Or else do without it. (To extend the metaphor above, that means take those tight shoes you’ve been wearing and superglue them to your feet.)
Too often, kids like I was and like Larry was don’t find it. Larry and I were both lucky in that we did (though his story ended far differently than mine.)
When kids like Larry and I were do find it, too often we want to take it away from them. We want to close down schools like the Harvey Milk School in New York, or prevent them from opening like the school that was planned and then later shelved in Chicago. It doesn’t matter if you’re one of those people who opposes the idea on religious grounds (because it bugs you that a gay kid might not get bullied), or because you’re one of those people who believes that kids like was and like Larry was should be able to be safe in our schools, and free from harassment and violence for being who we are, and that having schools like this “only makes the problem worse,” the reality is somewhat different
GLSEN, or the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, today announced the results of a new survey conducted on its behalf by Harris Interactive® titled “From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, A Survey of Students and Teachers.” The national survey of over 3,400 students aged 13-18 and over 1,000 secondary school teachers, explores students’ and teachers’ experiences with bullying and harassment, and their attitudes about this serious problem in America’s schools.
…The online survey, conducted between January 13 and January 31, 2005, reveals that bullying is common in America’s schools, and that some students are frequent targets for verbal and physical harassment:
- Two-thirds (65%) of teens report that they have been verbally or physically harassed or assaulted during the past year because of their perceived or actual appearance, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, race/ethnicity, disability or religion.
- The reason most commonly cited for being harassed frequently is a student’s appearance, as four in ten (39%) teens report that students are frequently harassed for the way they look or their body size.
- The next most common reason for frequent harassment is sexual orientation. One-third (33%) of teens report that students are frequently harassed because they are or are perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual.
The survey finds that LGBT students are three times as likely as non-LGBT students to say that they do not feel safe at school (22% vs. 7%) and 90% of LGBT students (vs. 62% of non-LGBT teens) have been harassed or assaulted during the past year.
Sending those kids back into schools that still aren’t safe for them, and then planning to make those schools safer, makes about as much sense as a farmer sending his animals back into the burning barn and then putting out the fire.
There may be a balance that still needs to be found, between appropriate gender expression and forcing a kid into a mold that eventually breaks him. The bottom line should be that kids like I was and like Larry was should be able to go to school and be safe there, period. In fact, schools have an obligation to provide safe environments for all students, including students like Larry or like me.
But that so much of the debate centered around whether Larry should have been encourage and supported as much as he was, instead of why the school did nothing to stop the harassment that had been going on, suggests that it will be a long time before kids like Larry was or kids like I was are safe in school.
If we don’t want more stories like this, then we need to start focusing on the source of the problem — the people who are doing the bullying and harassing — and not the target. Otherwise, what happened to Larry King will go right on happening.
Lawrence “Larry” King (1993 – February 16, 2008) was a biracal, openly gay, feminine-identified youth who was shot to death by his classmate, Brandon McInerney, on February 12, 2008, at E.O. Green Junior High School.
Lawrence King King’s biological mother was a drug user and his father was absent. At two years of age, he was taken in by Greg and Dawn King. The King’s were told he wasn’t being fed regularly. A speech impediment made King difficult to understand, and King had to repeat the first grade.
According to his father, Greg, King was prescribed ADHD medication, and was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder.
Classmates began whispering about King in the third grade due to his effeminate manner. His best friend asked if he was gay, and King said yes. King came out to other classmates and was taunted as a result. One Halloween, a smoke bomb was throw into the King’s home, nearly killing their pet Jack Russell terrier. Once student started a “Burn Book” (an allusion to the movie Mean Girls) about Larry, which said he was gay and falsely asserted that he dressed in goth and drag, and ended with a death threat. His parents moved him to another school.1)
At 12, King was put on probation for vandalizing a tractor with a razor blade, and entered counseling with his father. King told his father he might be bisexual, but his therapist said King was just trying to get attention and may not have understood what it meant to be gay. King began telling his teachers his father was hitting him, and despite his father’s denials King was removed from the home in November 2007.2)
King moved into Casa Pacifica, in Camarillo, CA.3) A driver took him to school every day, and he sometimes went to Ventura, where he attended meetings of a gay youth group, the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance.
In January 2007, King began wearing female attire. At some point he called his mother from Casa Pacifica and told her he wanted to have a sex-change operation. He told a teacher he wanted to be called Leticia, but reportedly dropped the idea without argument when the teacher refused.4) His classmates at E.O. Green said he was known to wear make-up and jewelry, and was openly gay.5) Students said that King endured some taunting, but appeared to be holding his own.6)
According to students, King and McInerney, 14, had a falling out related to King’s sexual orientation. several students said that King and several other male student had some king of altercation during the lunch period. Some students said King had sometimes come to school wearing “high-heeled boots, makeup, jewelry and painted nails – the whole thing.”7)
By February, King’s GPA had fallen from a 1.71 to 1.0.8)
Brandon McInerney McInerney turned 14 three weeks before King’s murder.9)
McInerney’s parents separated in August 2000, when he was six years old. Court documents indicate his parents had a violent and troubled marriage, and that McInerney witnessed much of the violence. In 2000, William McInenerney pleaded no contest to charges of domestic battery, and spent 10 days in jail. His mother, Kendra became addicted to methamphetamine in her 20s, and struggled with addiction until she was charged with being under the influence of drugs and ended up in a treatment program at 37.
Throughout the family turmoil, McInenery got involved in activities outside of the home, including martial arts and lifeguard training. He also joined the Marine Corps’ equivalent of the Jr. ROTC, becoming a leader in the group until it disbanded in the summer of 2007.10)
McInerney’s troubles began when his father began working in a town 60 miles away. McInerney began hanging out with new friends, and didn’t have much interest in school, except for Nazi history. He knew all about the Nuremberg trials, and all the names of Hitler’s Deputies. By the end of the first semester of eight grade, his GPA tumbled from a 3.3 to a 1.9. When he was kicked out of his honors English class, McInerney joined the same English class as King.11)
On the morning of the February 12, 2008, King left his feminine attire at home and went to school dressed like any other boy. School employees said he seemed upset, and he told one employee that he’d thrown up his breakfast that morning. King was observed looking nervously over his shoulder on his way to English class.
Shortly after King arrived in class, the teacher moved the class to the computer lab. McInerney entered the class, taking the seat directly behind King. At 8:30 a.m., McInerney stood up, fired two shots into the back of King’s head, tossed the gun to the ground, and quietly walked out of the classroom and left the school. 12)
Classmates said King may have expressed romantic feelings toward McInerney. 13) Several students said that McInerney King had a verbal altercation with a group of students. 14) One parent later told police that her daughter said that several students exchanged text messages the day before about what McInerey planned to do. Police chief John Crumbaugh acknowledged that several students said they hear about “comments, statements and threats” but didn’t take them seriously, and there was no evidence that it was reported to school officials.15)
McInerey fled the scene of the shooting, and was apprehended by police a few blocks away from the school.16)
At 2:00 p.m. on February 13, 2008, King was declared brain dead by two surgeons at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, CA. His body was kept on a ventilator for possible organ donation.17)
On February 16, 2008, King was removed from life support. His family had asked that his body be kept on a ventilator until his organs could be donated, and he was removed from life support after that had taken place.18)
King’s funeral was held on February 22, 2008.
King Memorial Outside of E.O. Green On February 19, 2008, hundreds of parents met in an Oxnard gymnasium, there to ask questions of school officials about King’s shooting, including why officials did not intervene more aggressively in the escalating feud between King and McInerney. Questions were answered by a panel including school officials, counselors, and Oxnard Police Chief John Crombach. Further details about the incident were also revealed. One parent said her daughter told her that several students exchanged text messages the day before, about what McInerney planned to do.19) Cromberg and school officials told parents that they were reviewing safety procedures and considering installing metal detectors.20)
A series of candlelight vigils were held in the wake of King’s death. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) made King’s murder one of the central themes in the organization’s Day of Silence on April 25, 2008.21)
Following King’s death, television personalities Ellen Degeneres22) and Larry King talked about Larry’s murder and spoke out against anti-LGBT violence. The Logo television network produced a public service announcement against anti-LGBT violence, the subject of which was King’s murder.23)
A year after his murder, King was remembered in Washington D.C. when Rep. Lois Capps read a statement from the floor of the House of Representatives honoring his “full but tragically short” life, and condemning his murder. Capp’s statement cited statistics about LGBT youth and harassment.24)
In August 2008, King’s family — his father Gregory, his mother Dawn, and his brother Rocky — filed a personal injury lawsuit against Ventura County and the Hueneme School District. The family alleged that the school district did not enforce the school dress code, and thus failed to protect King from harm, and that the county failed to protect him by permitting him to go to public school rather than Casa Pacifica. The family claimed that the county also had knowledge of death threats against King at a previous school, but did not protect him by enforcing the dress code.
School officials said they were aware of the friction between King and McInerney, and offered them both counseling.
Superintendent Jerry Dannenberg said the school staff did nothing wrong, and 25) Dannenberg said that the school had done “a lot of counseling and a lot of work with [King], to help him with some of his concerns and issues,” but would not go into further detail.26)
On February 14, 2009, the King family filed a wrongful death lawsuit accusing the school district, Casa Pacifica and the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance — along with nearly two dozen other defendants — of failing to protect him. The suit alleged that Casa Pacifica knew King’s behaior was “sexually assertive” and threatening, but failed to take action. The suit also accused the Ventura County Rainbow alliance of giving King “crossdressing clothes, makeup, and women’s boots.”27)
Jay Smith, executive director of the Rainbow Alliance, denied the accusations. In a Feburary 12, 2009, editorial in the Ventura County Star, Casa Pacfica executive director Steve Elson, and board president Stacy A. Roscoe, wrote:
“No one at Casa Pacifica ever encouraged Larry in his desire to “accessorize” or to be extreme in his appearance or mannerisms. Once, Larry went to school in jeans instead of the required navy blue “dockers.” After school, officials alerted us to this “violation” of the dress code and we made sure he always left for school in the required “uniform.” Indeed, the advice key staff gave him stressed the importance of personal safety and underscored the importance of making wise decisions and using sound judgment.”
“It is our responsibility – no, our privilege – to provide a “peaceful home” for all children who come into our care. We want every child to feel safe, feel respected and to know that, no matter what their backgrounds or behaviors, they will be treated with dignity. Larry felt safe here. More than that, he felt respected and valued. One of his former teachers told us that Larry had said to her that his time at Casa Pacifica was the happiest of his life.28)”
McInerney was charged with first-degree murder in King’s death, with a special allegation that the killing was a hate crime. Bail was set at $770,000.29)
McInerney was arraigned on May 8, 2008. His attorney, public defender William Quest, said that school officials were partly to blame for not having intervened in the conflict between King, McInerney over King’s sexual orientation. School officials disagreed with Quest’s allegations. School superintendent Jerry Dannenberg said that the school was aware of what was going on and were dealing with it appropriately.30)
On July 8, 2009, Superior Court Judge Doug Daily found that there was no constitutional violation in District Attorney Gregory Totten decision to try McInerney as an adult. McInerney will be tried as an adult under California’s Proposition 21, which allows juveniles under 14 to be tried as adults for certain crimes.31)
The decision to try McInerney as an adult drew protests from gay organizations such as the Lambda Legal Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign. In a letter to the district attorney’s office, 27 organizations said the McInerney should be “held accountable for his actions,” but he should be tried in Juvenile Court.32)
On August 11, 2008, Judge James Cloninger, ruled that records documenting King’s behavior must be released Quest. Cloninger said he would privately review the record requested by Quest to aid in his clients defense; records which are expected to disclose information on King’s behavior during the time he was living at Casa Pacifica and attending school at E.O. Green School.33)
On August 11, 2008, Ventura County Superior Court Judge James Cloninger ruled that records regarding King’s behavior must be released to Quest. The records are expected to reveal information about King’s behavior during the time he was living at Casa Pacifica.
Cloninger ordered the release of records showing staff had received complaints about King’s behavior, and ordered the school to turn over any list of students who had complained about being harassed by King if such a list exists. Steve Pell, the King family’s lawyer, attempted to quash the release of the records. On August 21, 2008, Quest received the records.34)
On February 10, 2009, the Ventura County district attorney’s office filed documents in response to a defense appeal alleging that prosecutors had abused their discretion by charging McInerney as an adult. In the documents, prosecutors described the shooting as a pre-meditated execution-style murder, carried out by a classmate who was a proponent of “racist skinhead philosophy.”35)
Senior Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox said the details of the case justified trying McInerney as an adult. In December 2008, Fox filed a statement of facts to show that the case was properly filed. On February 11, 2009, The Ventura County Star Published details 36) from the brief including the following37):
- In the days before the shooting, McInerney had tried to elist other boys to administer a beating to King. When that failed due to lack of interest, he decided to kill King.
- King and McInerney had a acrimonious relationship in the months prior to the shooting.
- Witnesses said King was not the aggressor, but that he began to retort after months of being taunted and called “faggot” by McInerney and other male students.
- The day before the shooting, King and McInerney were bickering during seventh period, and a student heard McInerney say, “I’m going to shoot him.”
- After that class, another student heard King say “I love you” to McInerney, and then heard McInerney say he was “going to get a gun and shoot” King.
- McInerney told a third student to “say goodbye to your friend Larry because you’re never going to see him again,” the document stated. The female student didn’t take the threat seriously.
- McInerney was familiar with firearms and had used the gun used to shoot King for target practice while shooting with his family.
- Investigators found in his possession a training video titled “Shooting in Realistic Environments,” as well as skinhead and neo-Nazi literature and similar writings from the internet.
On January 19, 2009, defense attorney Scott Wippert said the district attorney’s office abused its power by failing to consider factors such as McInerney’s youth, family life, and school officials’ failure to deal with growing tensions between him and King. Wippert requested documents outlining the prosecutors’ reasoning for charging McInerney as an adult, but the district attorney refused to provide them.
On February 18, 2009, a state appellate court denied without comment an appeal filed by McInerney’s lawyers seeking information on why the district attorney decided to prosecute him as an adult. The appeal ask the appellate justices to overturn a ruling by a Ventura County Superior Court judge saying that prosecutors didn’t have to hand over the documents.38)