Ten years after Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered because of his sexual orientation, a 15-year-old gay California student is dead after a student allegedly shot him because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. He had previously been on life support, although brain dead.
Lawrence King, an eighth-grader at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, was being kept alive today for organ donation after being shot Tuesday morning in class. The 14-year-old attacker, among a group of students known to bully and harass King because he sometimes wore makeup and jewelry and told classmates he was gay, will be charged with murder and a hate crime.
"I am deeply saddened by the terrible news about the shooting of Lawrence King. My prayers go out to all of Lawrence's friends and family," said Judy Shepard, Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. "This terrible incident underscores the fact that we cannot let hate go unchecked in our schools and communities. Our young people need our direction and guidance to prevent this type of crime from happening. I urge all parents and teachers to educate their children and students about acceptance, understanding and compassion."
"This incident of senseless violence is truly horrifying, and our hearts go out to the student’s friends, family and the E.O. Green School community," said Kevin Jennings, Executive Director of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. "As a nation, we’ve had our heads in the sand for far too long. We need to do everything we can to prevent something like this from happening again."
"This incident is another heartbreaking reminder of how often young people must endure intimidation or violence in school because of their sexual orientation or the way they express their gender identity," said Joe Solomonese, president, Human Rights Campaign. "While California's residents are fortunate to have state laws that provide some protection against hate crimes and school bullying, this pattern of violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students is repeated too often in schools and communities across America each day. This tragedy illustrates the need to pass a federal hate crimes law to ensure everyone is protected against violent, bias-motivated crimes, wherever they reside."
"Right now we don’t know exactly how anti-gay hate expressed itself in the murder of Lawrence King," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "What we do know is that he was harassed on a daily basis because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. We do know that adults at his junior high school did not stop it and that kind of tolerance of anti-gay bigotry is pervasive in our nation’s schools. Our hearts go out to Lawrence’s family — and to all young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids who are — right now, right this minute — being bullied and beaten in school while adults look the other way."
A MySpace page has been created for anyone wishing to share their thoughts on this matter: http://www.myspace.com/rememberinglawrence
The 2001-02 California Healthy Kids Survey for the California Department of Education found that California students who were harassed because they are, or are perceived to be, gay or lesbian were more than five times more likely than other students who were not harassed to report being threatened or injured with a weapon (28% to 5%).
“It’s absolutely crucial that we name the problem of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment and address it directly to find a solution to the everyday fear that keeps countless youth from feeling safe in school," Jennings said. "We must confront the fact that LGBT students are much more likely to be threatened with a weapon and much more likely to feel unsafe at school than other students.”
Two of the top three reasons students say their peers are harassed in school are actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, according to From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, a 2005 Harris Interactive report commissioned by GLSEN. The top reason is physical appearance.
As was the case at E.O. Green Junior High, what begins as bullying and harassment too often escalates to violence. In GLSEN’s 2005 National School Climate Survey, nearly a fifth (17.6%) of LGBT students reported being physically assaulted at school in the past school year because of their sexual orientation and over a tenth (11.8%) because of their gender expression.
California is one of only 10 states that protect students from bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and one of only five that protect students from bullying and harassment based on gender identity/expression.
“Safe schools laws and policies are vitally important, but simply having a law is not enough,” Jennings said. “Schools need to implement staff development and trainings to address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Schools also need programs that teach young people respect and tolerance. Every student deserves to feel safe in school. We must take action and take responsibility for our inaction.”
Another crucial intervention to protect students and all Americans is to pass the Matthew Shepard Act as an appropriate and measured response to the unrelenting and under-addressed problem of violent hate crimes committed against individuals based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability.
Update (2/17/2008): In an LA Times story today, where a surprising 1,000 people showed up for a march in tribute to King, they reported:
Jeremiah, another student and friend of the victim, said King had recently told the 14-year-old boy who is alleged to have shot him that he had a crush on him.
"I see no point in shooting someone for telling them that you like them," said Jeremiah, who didn't want to give his last name.
Update (2/23/2008): The family have a memorial website up at http://www.rememberlarry.com/. It thanks the church, has some links to anti-violence/tolerance stuff, but sort of skips over the gay angle entirely, which is on purpose.
"I want Larry remembered for who he was as a person, and not just this facet of his life," said Phil Cohen of Torrance, a family friend who created the Web site. "I'd rather not have him known as that gay kid. I'd rather have him known as Larry, a good kid who tried his best."
Family members didn't want to publicly discuss King's personal struggles. Despite the hate crime allegation, authorities have declined to comment on issues of sexual orientation, saying only that the motive for the shooting was rooted in a dispute between King and McInerney.
Cohen said he has filled his Internet photo gallery with pictures of King as he and the family want him remembered. The pictures show King as a young boy showing off a missing tooth, a 3-year-old in a Halloween pumpkin costume, a smiling teen holding a dog at Christmas, and a young man holding a bug at a Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C., in December 2006. The site also includes forums on tolerance and nonviolence.
"A lot, if not too much, is being made of his sexuality, if indeed it was his sexuality. At 15, how can anybody know what his sexuality is?" Cohen asked.
King had discussed questions about his sexual orientation with his parents, who responded they would love him whatever he decided, Cohen said.
Cohen said he doesn't want to alienate the gay community. He simply wants people to remember Larry as a person, rather than a symbol for a sexual orientation.
Family members and friends have said Larry was a sweet, artistic boy who loved to sing folk rock songs, enjoyed studying bugs, preferred vegetables to meat and helped out at his younger brother's baseball games.
Of course, this is all nice, but it doesn't explain the missing element in this story, which the NY Times mentions:
Lawrence wore his favorite high-heeled boots most days, riding the bus to school from Casa Pacifica, a center for abused and neglected children in the foster care system, where he began living last fall. Officials would not say anything about his family background other than that his parents, Greg and Dawn King, were living and that he had four siblings.
Why was he in foster care and living on his own if the family "would love him whatever he decided"? Sounds like he had decided, no?
(Quotes gathered from various gay rights organizations by Jeff. Main image from Bay Area Reporter; black and white image from GLSEN site; fishing picture from a local newspaper. The years they were taken are all unknown, as far as which is the most recent.)