February 12th marks a tragic anniversary. Two years ago on that date, Brandon McInerney, an eighth grade student in Oxnard, California, walked into his first period class and shot and killed his classmate, Lawrence "Larry" King.
We will never know Larry's true sense of his own identity. Friends report that he had come out as gay and that he had recently started to come to school in "feminine" clothing and wear makeup. There are some reports that Larry had once expressed interest in sex reassignment surgery.
What we do know is that Brandon had bullied Larry, and that, in defiant response, Larry had told Brandon that he liked him. Brandon's friends report that he was increasingly bothered by jokes going around the school that since Larry was coming on to him that Brandon must himself be gay.
Shortly before the murder, Brandon
turned 14, the statutory limit for being tried as an adult in the state of California. He is being prosecuted as an adult, and is also being charged with a hate crime. Should he be convicted, prosecutors say, Brandon will face a maximum sentence of 53 years to life in prison (though 14- and 15-year-olds in California cannot receive life without the possibility of parole).
From any angle, February 12th is the anniversary of two lives' destruction by homophobia and the inability of the two boys' families, school and relevant social service agencies to deal effectively with the escalating conflict between them. Experts on bullying agree that any bullying situation involves two young people who need help--the target and the perpetrator. Both Brandon and Larry had already led difficult lives, and needed something more than their communities were able to give them.
This horrifying anniversary and Brandon's trial, to follow this spring, are occasions to recommit ourselves to doing better by all young people who suffer from bias, bullying and harassment. GLSEN has always stood for the urgency of educationally appropriate responses to these issues in our schools. We should never be satisfied with the Pyrrhic victory of punishment, especially when so many young lives are at stake.
GLSEN's simple message of respect for all can go a long way in preventing these tragic events. We hope to have your continued participation and support as we push forward in making schools safe for all students.
Eliza Byard, Ph.D.