Friday, April 25, 2008

Lawrence King (Bumped up)

Today is the National Day of Silence which is this year dedicated to the memory of Lawrence King. To honor this, I am bumping up this post I wrote last month.


In the current issue of The Advocate, there is an article about the murder of Lawrence King.

Lawrence King was fifteen, gay, effeminate, and a foster child. He lived in a group home where he was told he had rights to be himself and to express himself. He went to school in high-heeled boots and eye shadow. He was bullied, and he stood up to the bullies. He was proud, and his group home actually helped him to be strong and proud.

Brandon McInerey is described by The Advocate as one of the chidlren who are "products of their society, one that simply does not know what to do with a boy in heels." Brandon's home life was violent. The Advocate is a little vague on the details, but we are left to imagine that it was quite horrific, certainly much, much worse than the idyllic group home (see bucolic photo of farm-like home on page 31) where Larry lived. Larry was bullied at school and the school knew it. Brandon heard a rumor that Larry had a crush on him. Brandon yelled insults at Larry. An older student asked the principal to have an emergency assembly to address this issue. The principal asked Larry if he was okay and when Larry said yes, the principal didn't worry about it anymore.

And then Brandon came to school with a gun and shot Larry.

And who is to be blamed? The Advocate is willing to consider different villains. One serious contender might be No Child Left Behind, which is preventing the schools from teaching things like acceptance and non-violence. Damn government. Because you know the schools would have acted if they just didn't have all that pressure to get the math scores up.

The Advocate tells us that Brandon's home life is violent, but the article does not investigate the theory that teenage killers may be who they are because of abuse they suffer. In fact, Brandon is really quite normal, just another product of society.

The Advocate is most concerned about that group home where they encouraged Larry to express himself. They gave Larry a pamphlet from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) which listed entitlements. The pamphlet told Larry he had the right to dress the way he wanted and be who he was. The pamphlet told Larry he had the right to be safe. And the people at group home drove him 15 miles (one way!) to attend a support group for GLBT kids, furthering his sense that he had the right to be safe in this world. The group home went to great length to support Larry. Did they, the article asks over and over, send him to his death?

Can you tell that I am angry yet?

I keep wondering if the article would have been different had the people who had been trying to make Lawrence King proud and strong were his parents: good, loving people who were the parents every GLBT person wishes they had. Then perhaps it might have been Brandon's violent parents who were at fault. Brandon might not then have been presented as just another product of society. The school might be held responsible for knowing the problem existed and doing nothing. Would they have then suggested that the requirement to teach math somehow explains or excuses the school's inaction?

The Advocate article states that King's death is part of a "a growing epidemic that is claiming the life of another gender non-conforming young person every couple of months." Yet they give us NO reason to think that kids who are proud and confident are somehow more likely to be victims than those who are ashamed and trying to hide.

At least The Advocate article has a link to Gender Public Advocacy Coalition where you can find their article on Lawrence King. CPAC's emphasis is in the right place -- schools must be safe.

I am disappointed in The Advocate article, deeply, deeply disappointed because this is a live question for me. I parent kids who need help as they figure out their identity and experiment with self-expression. They DO have the right to be safe. They DO have the right to self-expression. My experience is that kids who are ashamed and hide are more likely to be bullied than those who are confident about who they are. Carl wore make-up to school for a while -- really bad make-up that did not work with his coloring at all -- and he was bullied far less than the year before when he walked with his head down and tried to pretend he was straight.

But it touches a nerve because I do worry that in teaching my kids to be confident I may also not be teaching them to be safe. I want to know what tips I could give them. (I once brought this up at a meeting of the GLBT support group asking the kids what tips they would give others, especially effeminate boys. They bounced around a couple of ideas but in the end they agreed that the most effective strategy was to make friends with the popular girls.) Though there is some part of me that wants to tell the boys to be careful, not to cross some invisible line, I do not think the line exists. Or if it does exist it is exists in the minds of the violent. "Flaunting" means doing anything that makes the homophobic uncomfortable, and there is no way to know what that is. Would Lawrence King been safe if he had not worn make-up and high heels? Or would that not have been enough? Perhaps he would have been safe if he never developed a crush on another boy or denied any crush he did have. Perhaps if he have been closeted and filled with self-hatred, Brandon would not have bullied him. Would Lawrence be safer then? Perhaps he might have been able to stay under Brandon's radar.

If he had, would Brandon have not killed, or would he have killed someone else?

And would we then ask what THAT victim had done wrong?


  1. Isn't it interesting and horrific that the victim is the one who is analyzed when murders or rapes are committed instead of the one who commits the crime? I remember in high school when one of my guy friends wanted to wear a dress to school. The school suspended him. Then he tried it again. Yes, he was trying to figure out who he was, but the administration didn't like that so they suspended him again for 3 days. Was he hurting anyone by wearing a dress? Granted, this was a long time ago and a pale comparison to the article you presented. However, I am still involved in the GLBT community and things have not progressed much farther. Why is homosexuality so scary or threatening to some people?

    I don't get it. Our society has a long way to go...

  2. It is scary even when your child is not the homosexual (at least...not that I can tell yet...she's 9 and thinks that sex w/ ANYONE is gross!LOL)when you teach them that it's ok. I worry because when other kids were throwing comments like "he's soooo gay" and she said "what's wrong w/ that" and they laughed I was glad that that was ALL they did...laugh. I worry that the day will come when she'll say it and she'll get her ass kicked (or worse) for doing the right thing...isn't that horrible. I'm teaching her to do the right thing but then I'm paranoid the right thing is going to get her so sad.

    It really bothered me that they would blame the group home for instilling good self esteem or positive self worth in him as if that was the reason he was killed.

    I'm no fan of NCLB but the school admins are cowards if they are trying to hide behind it to defend the fact that they didn't take it seriously enough.

    I worked for a school office before and during the time my 1st Principal was there (he was gay) no bullying was tolerated. The second Principal was more of boys-will-be-boys type of person and I saw quite a few get away w/ it.

    Just sad all around.

  3. “blog is not publishing a feed at all?”

    Hi…would you believe I had no idea what that meant?!LOL

    I’ve spent some time on the blogger help desk trying to figure it out but in the process I found Blogger Reader…can’t believe I didn’t know about this neat little option….I feel like an idiot!LOL

    Anyway…now I sort of get it and according to the feed site it seemed like it was active but maybe I’m missing something.. I switched it from full to short to see if that would make a difference.

    Way at the bottom of my page (right before a large picture of my mutt) it says “Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)” is this what you are talking about?

    Thanks…I need a computer savvy teenager…might have to go borrow one!LOL

    - going back under my rock now ;)

  4. Reading this again makes me both sad and angry.

    I don't have any good answers except to say that being closeted can lead to even worse things sometimes than being "out".

    I don't know what I would have advised Tim had he come to me with a cross dressing request. Fortunately, I missed out on that one in school.

    Still, he tells me now he was bullied. He never let on back then.

  5. Imagine instead that Larry was black and his group home brought him to a support group for being black, and supported him wearing an afro hair style and handed him pamphlets of loving your heritage...


  6. That is the saddest story. Sadder still that there are foster parents trying to figure out how to let these children be themselves and be safe.


Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.