One more inequity to think about in the voting booth.
The July 28, 2008, issue of Newsweek featured a cover story entitled “Young, Gay and Murdered.” The story dealt with the tragic death this past February of 15-year-old Larry King, shot by a 14-year-old classmate named Brandon McInerney.
King was a young transgender student who favored three-inch stiletto heels, glitter eyeliner, and knee-high pink boots. Constantly the subject of school buzz, King pushed the window of social acceptance. Shortly before Valentine’s Day, he publicly asked McInerney to be his Valentine. McInerney responded soon after by shooting him during an English class study period.
So many things went wrong in this story that it’s difficult to sort everything out; it’s even more difficult to come up with lessons to learn. But we must search for answers and wisdom. Otherwise, King and McInerney just become fodder in the fight for GLBT rights.
Newsweek reported that King’s behavior at school was protected by a California court’s interpretation of the state’s hate crimes legislation. Now, that’s either bad legislation or bad interpretation. What do three-inch stiletto heels have to do with hate crimes? Let’s pass laws, but let’s be careful what we put into law.
Where were King’s parents when he walked out their front door every morning? Parents aren’t perfect; they try to find a balance between Oprah and their minister, and the Kings join the list of victims in this story. But in a disappointing move, the Kings recently filed suit against their son’s school. Rather than accept their role in collective oversights, they’ve shifted the blame.
How does a 14-year-old acquire a handgun and ammo? The most serious responsibility in this story belongs to the owner of that firearm, whose carelessness allowed McInerney the opportunity to use it.
Blaming the victim definitely isn’t an answer. King was just being a teenager, and he grew up in a time of greater openness and acceptance of gender expression. But with freedom comes responsibility.
It wasn’t King’s gender expression, though, that led to his death. The flashpoint was when he publicly proclaimed his affection for McInerney. If GLBTs expect to be accepted with dignity, then we must offer the same to heterosexuals.
King chose to declare his love for McInerney by interrupting a playground basketball game. We all enjoy the freedom to light a match. But it’s not wise to hold that flame too close to a stick of dynamite.
King was a lonely teenager at odds with his biological gender. It’s not surprising that his frustrations manifested themselves by provoking controversy. Yet his cries for attention went unheard.
A quick fix might be to institute the wearing of school uniforms. Parents seem to love them, but students hate them. And clone-like regimentation would only be a superficial remedy. If King had not been able to express his gender identity at school, it’s quite probable he would have found other avenues, such as shopping malls, where violence might still have befell him.
One possible solution to King’s problem comes from an unlikely source, a remote farming region in Thailand. Recently, the school there constructed a third bathroom for the male-to-female transgenders—nearly 10 percent of the males at the school. All students wear uniforms, but they can accessorize according to personal choice. The transgenders bond together to find comfort and support.
Another possible answer comes from a private school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As early as five years of age, transgender students are allowed to fully express their gender identity openly. King was caught in a hapless gender limbo, neither male
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) has long advocated for anti-bullying efforts in public schools. Although they have met with some success, conservative groups like the American Family Association constantly push back against them. The PFLAG programs are voluntary, but anti-bullying legislation for all students is a more permanent answer.
Too often schools are forced into raising children in addition to educating them. And school administrators are often expected to avoid public controversies—at the risk of losing their jobs if they let their boats get rocked. In this story the school is a victim, too.
American marketing sometimes forgets what they might be fostering. A recent Snickers ad was cited by GLBT watchdog groups and pulled. In the ad, Mr. T roars through a quiet urban neighbor in a menacing pickup, and shoots a swishing speed walker. His machine gun spouts Snickers bars. The ending tagline says, “Get some nuts.” If you don’t agree with a person’s behavior, shoot them.
Conservative commentators and Republican politicians send out messages that add to the kind of environment that fostered King’s death. Pat Buchanan mocks Democrats as the party of cross-dressers. Ann Coulter calls John Edwards a faggot. Arnold Schwarzenegger labels liberals as girlie men. Bush and McCain characterize their opponents as “elite”—Republican code for sissy.
Next month, Americans will elect a new president. I suggest that cross-dressers, faggots, girlie men, sissies, tomboys, dykes, and all other queers show up at voting booths and consider that the Democratic Party is a longtime ally of our community.
And when we leave the polls, we should resolve to remember that it’s still up to each of us to do what we can to prevent a recurrence of this tragic story that destroyed the lives of two young teens.
Brandon Wolf founded the online group, Houston Activist Network (Han-Net), which is now LoneStarActivists.