"Lawrence suffered the ultimate act of violence. He is dead and Brandon is alive. In that very basic way their situations cannot be compared. But there is a bigger picture here. Both of these children were victims. Victims of a society that continues to teach that it is permissible to exclude, revile and even hate gay people and anyone who does not conform to traditional gender stereotypes. Brandon pulled the trigger, but bigotry and hatred loaded the gun," Jean said.
(Watch Jean's full remarks on video or read the transcript at the end of the post.)
On Feb. 14 Ventura County Senior Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox charged McInerney with premeditated murder and included the special enhancements of using a firearm and committing a hate crime.
According to news reports of interviews with King's classmates and others, the 15-year-old foster youth had begun wearing make up and jewelry to school and had proclaimed himself to be gay. Several students told the Los Angeles Times that King had a verbal confrontation about his sexual orientation with McInerney and a group of boys the day before the shooting on February 12.
According to eyewitnesses, McInerney shot King in the head in a classroom at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard. He fled but was later apprehended by police. King was declared brain-dead and his organs were harvested for donations.
In an interview with IN Los Angeles magazine, Fox declined to confirm that King was gay or explain why she charged McInerney with a hate crime, saying ethical and professional obligations prohibited her from talking about any part of the case that is not in the public record.
"I apologize - but here I am. I have a dead boy and I have people impacted on both sides... I just can't let my personal feelings and knowledge from confidential police reports - I can't go out and blab about it until it's the right time. It's really important...My job is to prosecute this case and I will do everything to protect the record and try this case before an impartial jury so the defendant can get a fair trial."
Fox said California law - Prop. 21 - allows her the discretion to prosecute McInerney as an adult. She expects his defense attorney to try to have the case moved to Juvenile Court. A preliminary hearing has been tentatively set for late March, though Fox expects that to be extended to give the defense time to prepare and file motions.
McInerney is being held in Juvenile Hall in lieu of $770,000 bail. He faces 50 years to life, if convicted, plus an additional one to three years if found guilty on the hate crime enhancement.
According to news reports, King lived at Casa Pacifica, a shelter for abused and troubled children in Camarillo, where he had friends. Averi Laskey, 13, a fellow student and friend of King's told The Times that he was happy at the shelter. "He never felt like he had a family, but he told me when he got to Casa Pacifica that he had one there," Laskey said.
At the news conference, questions were raised regarding the school's insufficient response to the bullying King endured. Jean said she did not know enough about the Oxnard school, but said that state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, whose school bullying bill has been consistently attacked by religious right wing extremists, is working on strengthening and enforcing the bill.
In a statement Kuehl said:
"This shooting is an example of why laws in the criminal code and the education code must protect students like Lawrence and why schools must take serious and immediate actions to top this active discrimination and bigotry."
Both Gail Rolf, Executive Director of Project 10, the nation's first school program for LGBT youth, and Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, told reporters that after Kuehl's first anti-bullying school bill was signed into law, many school districts complained that they did not have the resources to enforce the unfunded mandate. In response, LGBT educators and activists organized to provide free training for schoolteachers and administrators how to respond to bullying.
A 2004 report called "Safe Place to Learn" from the California Safe School Coalition showed that among all students, LGBT and straight, 27% reported being harassed for some type of gender non-conformity (not being "masculine" or "feminine" enough), and 46% of all students reported that their schools weer not safe for LGBT students.
Another Coalition report, "Safe Schools Policy Survey" of more than 350 school districts in California representing 56% of the students in California schools, found that while 94% of districts report having a policy specifically prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, only 40% of the district have policies that prevent harassment based on gender identity, appearance or behavior; 60% of school districts are out of compliance with the enumerated categories covered in the non-discrimination statuettes in state law, according to a handout from the Gay Student Alliance Network provided to reporters.
Usually one element of a hate crime attack is the intention to send a signal to the entire hated group and while that may not have been Brandon McInerney's intention when he allegedly shot Larry King, it was the result. Lorri Jean was not the only LGBT person experiencing sorrow at the news conference in Hollywood.
"I'm very, deeply sad right now," Jean-Pierre Dehay Ward, 20, told me after the news conference. He had been "ridiculed, hated" and harassed growing up and as a student at Fairfax High School, especially when he wore makeup or drag.
"A lot of people didn't agree with my sexual orientation....I didn't feel safe in my own skin. It took me a very long time to feel OK with who I was. So I can really relate to Larry King. And I'm just appalled that this happened in middle school - he was shot in his own class, where he learned to look for guidance. This is not OK. When is enough enough?"
On Feb. 15, many in the community attended a candlelight vigil for King organized by the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance.
On March 12, an anti-gay group called the Capitol Resource Family Impact will host a "Lobby Day" in Sacramento to protest the "Student Civil Rights Act" - a bill by openly gay state Sen. Sheila Kuehl designed to combat anti-LGBT discrimination in schools. The bill, which went into effect on January 1, is being challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds. Kuehl calls the lawsuit "frivolous," saying the law simply reinforces existing protections. The state has moved to dismiss the case.
Remarks of Lorri L. Jean, CEO, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center
February 15, 2008 Press Conference re: the Murder of Lawrence King
We are here today because of the tragic murder of 15 year old Lawrence King in Oxnard. A boy who was just coming to terms with his sexuality and identity and was being honest about it. We're also here because of his killer, Brandon McInerney, the 14 year old boy who shot Lawrence dead because he was gay. But mostly we are here because of what this horrible incident represents.
First, let me say that our hearts go out to Lawrence and his friends and loved ones. And I say the same to Brandon and his friends and loved ones. This event is a terrible tragedy, but it's even more so because Lawrence and Brandon were still children. Their lives had barely begun. One was violently cut short and the other's hope for a normal, decent life is over. Two young people, full of promise with their whole lives ahead of them...all hope gone just like that, with the pull of a trigger.
Lawrence suffered the ultimate act of violence. He is dead and Brandon is alive. In that very basic way their situations cannot be compared. But there is a bigger picture here. Both of these children were victims. Victims of a society that continues to teach that it is permissible to exclude, revile and even hate gay people and anyone who does not conform to traditional gender stereotypes.
Brandon pulled the trigger, but bigotry and hatred loaded the gun.
No one is born hating gay and transgender people or believing that we should be denied equal rights. Such hatred and bigotry must be learned. It is learned in families that don't accept their own children if they're different than the norm. It is learned in right wing churches where ministers preach abomination or in schools where teachers and administrators don't protect LGBT kids from bullying and harassment. It is learned from political leaders who support blatant discrimination again us or whose leadership fails them when it's time to speak out and take action on behalf of our equality and our humanity.
All of these behaviors suggest that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are fair game for bigotry and hatred. They encourage impressionable young people to fear and hate not only themselves, but others. And too often this hatred takes the form of violence and innocent young people end up dead. Nothing is "pro-family" about that.
We're standing here in the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's Jeff Griffith Youth Center. Every week 100's of homeless kids come here for help they couldn't find anywhere else. They come from all over the country. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender kids who have been failed by the adults in their lives. Failed by parents, who kicked them out only because of who they love or their gender identity. Failed by teachers and school administrators who did not protect them from bullying and harassment. Failed by right-wing preachers who reviled them. Failed by political leaders who didn't stand up for them or, worse, who actually urged discrimination against them.
And, where are all of the so-called family values leaders today?
Where are the religious political extremists who claim to care about kids but who are actually trying to repeal laws in California that protect young people from this kind of violence?
Where are the political leaders who preach anti-gay discrimination?
They're nowhere. Instead of condemning anti-gay and anti-transgender hate crimes and violence, they say nothing. They are silent and it's despicable.
To all of these people I say--Lawrence King's blood and Brandon's ruined life are on your heads. Your bigotry loaded the gun. Your example made Brandon think it was OK to pull the trigger. And you have a responsibility to do something to make sure this never happens again. As do all of us!
Today we call upon extremist clergy who preach anti-gay hatred and abomination to stop.
We call upon parishioners whose church leaders are trying to repeal laws that would protect the Lawrence Kings of tomorrow to demand that such hateful activity stop.
We are calling upon school districts and administrators to put policies in place that require swift action and protection when students like Lawrence King are threatened and bullied. Stop these behaviors before they lead to violence and death.
We are calling upon political leaders to speak out against discrimination and exclusion, against bigotry and hatred and to make it clear that ALL Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, including young people.
We are calling upon decent and fair-minded people everywhere to realize that anti-LGBT bigotry has got to stop.