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Larry King was a flamboyant 15-year-old murdered in February in what some have labeled a gay-bias crime. Newsweek’s coverage of the murder shows exactly why anti-bias laws have to be expanded in Michigan – because mainstream media is still blaming victims
Sitting on the steps of the Lansing Capitol last Wednesday morning waiting for a press conference to announce the introduction of bills to improve the state’s Ethnic Intimidation Act and to expand sentencing guidelines, I was reminded once again of the power of the press and words. There in my folder was this week’s Newsweek.
The cover story is called “Young, Gay and Murdered.” The story is about the murder of Larry King , who was 15 years old when Brandon McInerney, a 14-year-old classmate at E. O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif., allegedly shot King not once but twice.
In the head.
King died the next day from a massive stroke, and his organs were donated the following day – Valentine’s Day. His heart now beats in the chest of a 10-year-old girl.
Until that gunfire, King’s heart beat in the chest of a slight boy who dressed in women’s clothing and declared himself gay. He asked a teacher to call him Leticia, to recognize his African-American heritage, but that teacher refused.
On the day he was shot, he was working on a paper about World War II, and on the computer screen that one might imagine was splattered with King’s blood and brain matter, he had written his byline as Leticia.
King was a boy with troubles in school and out, and a troubled family history. His father says he doesn’t believe Larry was gay, or bisexual as he allegedly told his father in the weeks before he was murdered.
But the real question raised by the Newsweek story is not why his being gay, out and vocal about it, was such a social crime it deserved the death penalty. Sadly, this question is never answered. Instead, writers Ramin Setoodeh, Andrew Murr and Jennifer Ordonez slaughter the teen’s memory and lay out the framework all too known to those of us in the gay community.
The gay panic defense.
We heard it in 1979 when Harvey Milk was assassinated in San Francisco by Dan White. White claimed he ate too many Twinkies the night before the assassination, and he got only two years in prison for killing two city leaders – Milk, who was an openly gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and the mayor.
We heard it in 1998 when the killers of Matthew Shepard claimed they had to beat, rob and leave him hung on a fence atop a hill in the nude because he made a pass at them.
And now we hear it in this case.
Sure, the authors of the story never write that what McInerney did to King was OK, but at the same time they claim that because King did not fit a prescribed expression of his gender, and because he broke convention and was flamboyant, that McInerney had to kill King.
I find it interesting that in the story, the writers tell the tale of King’s recess game where he and several girls discussed who they wanted to have as their Valentine, and then each had to walk over to the object of their affection and ask that person to be their Valentine. King choose McInerney.
Later that afternoon, McInerney reportedly told one of the girls to tell Larry goodbye because she would never see him again. Two days later, McInerney stood up in the computer lab at the California school and shot King twice in the head.
What the Newsweek writers forget to point out is that none of the boys who were approached by the girls felt they needed to bring a gun to school and shoot the girl in the head.
The writers didn’t need to point that out because the idea is ridiculous on its face. No one would feel pity for the boy who did that. But somehow, somewhere, these writers got the idea that a boy who dressed as a girl and said he was gay who asked a boy to be his Valentine, was out of control.
McInerney’s father says in the piece that his son was sexually harassed by King. Yet, the story documents not a single complaint from McInerney to school officials, or anyone else for that matter, about this alleged sexual harassment. But taking the perpetrator’s father’s word as gospel, the reporters write about King’s alleged infatuation with McInerney. They write about how his cross-dressing, makeup and in-your-face flamboyance deserves harassment because he was openly gay and was pushing the boundaries. King made everyone uncomfortable, the story implies.
Well, pretty much everyone except the counselor King had developed a bond with. A counselor who happened to be lesbian.
The subtext of the story is, look, he kind of had it coming. He really should have shut up and taken the harassment, the taunts, the shoves in gym class, and been silent about it because that is what good gay people do. They don’t rock the boat or stand up to challenges to their sexuality. He should have known when to stop expressing his constitutional rights to free speech because he was being intimidated.
And that lesbian. She wasn’t doing her job as a counselor in assisting a young man come to terms with his sexuality and gender expression and identity. She was using the unsuspecting King as a pawn in her evil gay-rights agenda. And now, King’s father says, King has been co-opted by the gay movement.
The implication is the lesbian counselor sacrificed this 15-year-old on the rocks of her gay agenda, and then against the victim’s own wishes to be known as gay, the gay movement, in pursuit of its agenda, wrongly publicized this murder and exploited this pawn sacrifice.
You know what? The only thing I can write in response to this which is printable is this: That’s absolutely ludicrous. Larry King was expressing himself. Whether he was gay, or transgender, you know what? It doesn’t matter. He was at the time identifying as that, and no father, just because he doesn’t want to believe his son, can make him not gay. He was killed because he expressed the forbidden concept of asking another boy on a date. Guess what: In both cases, if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it is a duck.
I should note that I have shared the Newsweek story with many of my friends in the LGBT community, and most were very uncomfortable with the subtext of the article. Some, like a transgender friend of mine, were furious. Ironically, many of the straight people I have shared the Newsweek story with have said it was troubling , but because they have not lived as an out LGBT person, they have not experienced the harassment and violence Larry King suffered before his murder. Harassment and violence are known intimately in the LGBT community.
In that two sets of perception lies the problem, and the issue with the Newsweek article. It was framed from the straight person’s sympathetic, albeit uninformed, experiences.
This was the brutal, calculated murder by one homophobic child against another child who identified as gay. And no, it was not acceptable that 14-year-old McInerney felt it necessary.
To put it in clearer terms: Larry King was obnoxious. He was flamboyant about his personal beliefs. What if he was flamboyantly Christian and had been shot in the head for that?
Newsweek may have inadvertantly provided the strongest evidence yet of why anti-bias crime laws have to be amended to include tougher new sentencing guidelines and have an expanded definition of who some of the targets of bias crimes might be.
With those tools law enforcement says they will be better equipped to address bias crimes and their impact on public safety.
Newsweek has shown us what happens when a community does not address bias crimes. Do we have to have a Larry King here in Michigan to make this issue real?