Saturday, September 3, 2011
"Gay Panic" In The Larry King Trial...and The Value of A Life.
Dear readers...I am at a loss.
Perhaps a few of you may have read about the recent announcement that the trial for the murder of middle schooler Larry King by fellow middle schooler Brandon McInerney has ended in a mistrial and a hung jury. Go to any gay blog covering the story and you will read many rage-filled responses. Some including a call to violent protest. Given the fact that Brandon McInerney told a fellow student he was going to murder Larry King the day before he brought the gun to school and actually committed the crime...because the murder was witnessed by an entire classroom full of students...AND...because McInerney's motive for shooting King was due to Kings sexuality and his reported "advances" on McInerney...there really should have been little doubt that this case was motivated by hate. Yet that seemed to be a hard fact for the jury to accept....so they didn't.
No one doubted that McInerney did it, they only questioned why. McInerney's defense did their level best to paint a picture of Larry King and a gender confused young man with no sense of reasonable boundaries and Brandon McInerney as a victim of an abusive upbringing. The character assassination committed against Larry King was rather extreme and anyone watching it couldn't help but get the picture that they were trying to show that somehow, King deserved what happened to him because he was just too gay and that his actions toward Brandon McInerney incited his classmate to murder. The unspoken statement here being that this was somehow an understandable, if extreme, response on McInerney's part. This reasoning seemed to find traction in the jury who unanimously voted to strike down the hate crimes charge. To the other charges of murder and manslaughter...5 jurors advocated for a straight up murder charge and 7 argued for first degree murder but they could not come to an agreement on whether or not the murder was an action committed in the heat of passion......really?....One result of the declaration of mistrial is that McInerney may be able to plea deal for a lesser sentence..or the less likely option of being retried as an adult.
The response to the announcement of the mistrial has been one of deep rage and can be summed up as, "Why is the life of a gay person worth less than that of his killer?" The extension of that question being, "Is this how much MY life is worth to a jury of my peers?"...and it is to that question that I would like to speak....
In any account, there are facts...and then the way we interpret those facts. In the case of Kings murder much was made of how Larry wore jewelry and makeup. How he would sometimes refer to himself in a feminine sense and did not hide that from anyone. His teachers claim that he had an outspoken awareness of himself as gay or possibly trans. It was also a fact that Larry was also bullied for not hiding who he was....one of those bullies being Brandon McInerney. It is also reported that King may have had a crush on McInerney, making statements to him that he loved him and asking him to be his valentine in front of his entire class. These actions, more than any other, are given as the reason why Brandon McInerney took a gun from his home....told a fellow classmate he was going to shoot King the following day...and then followed through on that threat.
McInerney's defense didn't even attempt to argue whether or not he did it. Instead, they sought to plant the seed that he was an emotionally damaged individual who was so embarrassed by what King did to him that he was driven to murder. And they did their damnedest to make King look like he was partly to blame by being so attention seeking and sexually confused. They intimated that King somehow invited what happened to him by being so forward in his crush on McInerney. But if that were true....then can any woman who receives unwanted attention from a man simply shoot him and make the same claim?...I bet not. So why would King somehow be to blame?
It has been my contention with men who are so dam afraid to be hit on by a gay person that they should wake the hell up and realize that women live with that reality everyday. They often say, "If a gay guy hits on me I would kick his ass!" It's a weak argument by people who have never had to be exposed to that kind of treatment the same way the average woman has. My opinion is that it's good for these guys to learn how it feels sometimes. Maybe they would have a bit for empathy for others.
Being hit on is not...and will NEVER require someone to follow through on some kind of sex act. I don't care how forward a person(of any sexuality) is in their interest you, it is NEVER o.k. to hurt someone over it...and if the person doing it is gay, that does put them in a special class or make them some form of sexual predator. A simple "no thanks" will usually do and move on. They only time you have a right to use violence to "defend" yourself is if that person lays hands on you and I would bet the percentage of gay people who can't take "no" for an answer is probably infinitesimally smaller than the percentage of straight men who push their advances on women to the point of sexual assault every day. Beating another man for merely being interested in you does not prove your manhood and being embarrassed by the attention is no excuse either....though that seems to be the common wisdom operative in the defense and mistrial of Brandon McInerney.
I simply do not care how gay Larry King may have behaved. Unless he was cornering Brandon McInerney and forcing him onto unwanted sexual situations there is no level of "gay behavior" that would EVER warrant killing him and it blows me away that some of the jurors did respond to the argument that Brandon McInerney had some emotionally justifiable cause for doing so.
I have struggled with this trial deeply. That fact that this event took place between to teenagers barely older than my son is hard to fathom. I understand that the jury has some sympathy for the fact that Brandon McInerney was 14 when he committed this crime, because how you do you sentence a 14 year old boy to a life in prison? But then, What of Larry Kings life?....he was15 and his life was taken from him against his will. I keep asking myself what I would do if it was my son. What if he had been the one to be killed....would I be able to look on Brandon McInerney as just another child then? Or...what if my son had been the one to pull the trigger? How would I feel then? Being that my own son is just three years younger than these boys were when this occurred...it is a horrifying thing to contemplate and understand how difficult this must have been for the jury to come to grips with.
And I need to be clear that I am not coming here to condemn Brandon McInerney...nor to defend him. He committed a murder that was witnessed by his entire class and he did it because he was embarrassed by the things that Larry King said to him. Those things happened and now they have to be dealt with. In the end those matters will have to be decided by cooler heads than mine. I DO come to condemn the idea that somehow Larry King was to blame for his own death...that is beyond disgusting to suggest and it has made alot of people very angry that this idea may be affecting the jury's decision. It is to this incredible anger which has surfaced in the wake of this trail that I wish to speak to. In comment boards in gay blogs across the internet "gay lives don't count" can be heard to echo again and again...and the anger is so think you can cut it with a knife. The notion that Larry Kings life is being held to be of lesser value than that of his killer is an emotional cord that has been deeply struck. If it can happen to Larry King...will it happen to me? Are all of our lives as gay, bisexual, or Trans people looked on as deserving of this type of treatment for living as exactly who we are with no apologies? If I am beaten in the street, will it be looked on as my fault because someone knew I was gay?
I read time and time again about some individual who exits a gay bar only to be beaten within an inch of his life and authorities refuse to prosecute the action as a hate crime....or a lesbian couple who's home is burned down by a neighbor who spray paints "sodomites" on their garage and even then, authorities hesitate to admit that the crime was motivated by the sexuality of the victims. It doesn't take a great leap of logic to realize that the law is not always going to protect us or that the scales of justice are deeply imbalanced. They are imbalanced for a great many people.
And are there people out there who feel that a gay life is not worthy of any regard at all let alone legal protection?....oh hell yes. Just listen to Tony Perkins of Maggie Gallagher speak for five minutes and that will be crystal clear to just about anybody. Also....as a gay man, I understand that there are those out there in the world who would happily put a gun to my head and still others who would applaud them for doing it. But just because they hold my life in such low regard does not mean that I have to believe that as well. Just as Larry King did not do anything so horrible that it would justify his own murder...nor should we ever accept that our lives have a lesser value even though others may think so. Sometimes we have to stand up and call that stuff out for the B.S. that it is. The fact that there are people out there who do not consider us as individuals worthy of equal protection under the law...or even basic human dignity...should be a given by now. It's what we do with that fact that counts. We are here and we do have a voice.
Everyday the world changes and with it, people change. For all the those who may secretly harbor the belief that being gay is a defect...or worse...their are many more who have come to see gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people as people who are worthy of the same respect and dignity as anyone else. In our anger and dismay about the events of Larry Kings murder it is important to remember this when it seems like the world is too full of injustice and hatred.
Those who hate us can devalue our loves, and our relationships. They can paint us as predators with sinister agendas...but that will not for one second be true. Larry King did not deserve to be shot because he asked the wrong boy to be his valentine. His death was not his own fault. But if justice fails Larry King...as it often does...it will not change that simple fact...nor the fact that all of our lives matter or that all of us deserve to live without fear, harassment, or violence. It is the core of all we struggle for whether it is marriage equality, military service, workplace protections, or immigration policies. Our lives count and we will not be invisible anymore. We will not accept that our deaths are somehow our own doing because we dared to live in the open. and we will continue to live as fearlessly and out as Larry King did.
Until next time dear readers....