Wednesday, February 11, 2009

IPN Remembers Lawrence King

Who was Lawrence King?
Lawrence King was a 15-year-old student from
Oxnard, California, who was shot and killed in class on February 12, 2008 by a 14-year-old classmate because of King’s sexual orientation and gender expression. The hate crime received little media attention but has served as a rallying cry for the need to address anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment. Organizers have registered more than 100 vigils across the country in remembrance of King.

At IPN we mourn Lawrence and all of the students who--even today--face hostile learning environments because of their real or percieved sexual orientation and gender identity.

Metro Gay-Straight Alliances are banding together for a candlelight vigil which will be held today at
Drake University from 7-9 pm in remembrance of Lawrence.

Last year the Iowa State Daily published a speech given by Warren Blumenfeld, an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction. It was a great speech, so we have included it below.

Iowa State Daily
Issue date: 2/26/08

Each year, the FBI tracks incidents of hate crimes throughout the United States. It reported in 2006, its most recent report, 7,722 criminal incidents involving 9,080 offenses as a result of bias against a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or national origin, or physical or mental disability.

• 51.8 percent were motivated by racial bias.
• 18.9 percent were motivated by religious bias.
• 15.5 percent were motivated by sexual orientation bias.
• 12.7 percent were motivated by ethnicity or national origin bias.
• 1 percent was motivated by disability bias.

Once again, we are mourning the tragic death of a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, a courageous soul who defied the sexuality and gender status quo and embraced life by living with integrity, sincerity and compassion.

On the morning of Feb. 12, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney, brandishing a gun, entered E. O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif. He walked up to Lawrence King and blasted two bullets into King's head at close range. Reports indicate that McInerney targeted King because he was openly gay and gender non-conforming. Doctors declared King brain-dead at the hospital, and three days later, took him off life support. He was just 15 years old and in the eighth grade.

Speaking of her friend, whom she referred to as Larry, Melissa Castillo remembered her classmate as a person "who was never afraid to show who he was. He was always the spirit of our group. He was always smiling. He was always bubbling. If you were having a bad day, or if you were feeling down, he was the one to bring you back up and make you start laughing again. He was proud of [who he was]. That's what we loved about him."

Melissa and Larry's other friends loved him for being proud of being gay, and for expressing his gender in ways that felt comfortable and integral to him, even though this often went against convention. Larry occasionally came to school wearing traditionally feminine articles of clothing: dresses or skirts with makeup and jewelry. Not everyone, however, supported Larry's sexual identity and gender identity and expression.

Lawrence King's name is now recorded on a continually growing list of members of our communities who have been taken from us all too soon, people who dared to be themselves and to push back the margins of human potential and expression. They are my inspiration and my heroes. Though their names are too numerous, I will mention just a few others.

Twenty-one-year-old gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, on Oct. 6, 1998, was pistol-whipped by two young men and tied to a wooden fence for more than 18 hours in near-freezing temperatures. Matthew had hoped to dedicate his life to advancing the cause of human rights for all people. His uncle, R. W. Eaton, said that "Matt was a small person with a big heart, mind and soul that someone tried to beat out of him."

Gwen Amber Rose Araujo, a male-to-female transsexual, in Newark, Calif., at a party on Oct. 3, 2002, was choked by a male partygoer. Three assailants continued to physically abuse and verbally taunt Gwen for the next five hours. They bashed her head with a frying pan and a can of tomatoes, causing a large head gash to stream with blood. Another person struck her with a barbell, while another crashed her head into a plaster wall. Gwen's body was discovered two weeks later. The three suspected assailants were arrested for Gwen's murder. Following Gwen's funeral, people marched through the streets of Newark ending at a community mall According to her mother, Sylvia Guerrero, "[S]he went through a lot of pain, and people didn't respect h[er]. It took a lot of guts. [S]he's strong, and [s]he finally came out."

In Alabama, two men bludgeoned to death Billy Jack Gaither, a 39-year-old gay man, with an ax handle and tossed his limp body onto a pyre of burning tires.

Brandon Teena, a female-to-male transsexual, was gang-raped in Nebraska when some men found out he had a vagina. Teena reported the incident to local police officials who basically discounted his story. Soon thereafter, the perpetrators entered Teena's home and murdered him along with two of his friends.

Charlie Howard, a 23-year-old gay man, was walking arm-in-arm with his friend Roy Ogden after leaving a meeting of Interweave, a support group for lesbians, gay males, bisexuals and transgender persons sponsored by the Unitarian Universalists in Bangor, Maine. Three teenage males attacked them for being gay. While Ogden got away, the three teens surrounded Howard, punched and kicked him as he attempted to hang on to a rail of a bridge overlooking a stream below. One of the teens gave the order to throw Howard from the bridge. When Howard heard this, he cried out in panic saying he could not swim. His plea only enlivened the boys, who dislodged Howard's hands from the railing, and with a mighty heave, tossed him into the stream some 20 feet below. Howard's lifeless body was found down stream.

What was done to Larry, to Matthew, to Gwen, to Billy Jack, to Brandon, and to Charlie is, unfortunately, nothing new and is not limited to them. We see hate-motivated violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and other targeted social groups on the rise, though most do not reach a high level of public discourse. These are examples of hate-related violence in general and so-called queer bashing specifically. The killers live in a society that promotes intolerance, for queer bashing comes in a great many forms.

For today we still live in a society where some people proclaim that we don't have a right to exist, but exist we do, everywhere, in all walks of life. The truth is that there is currently a cultural war being waged by the political and theocratic right, a war to turn back all the gains progressive people have made over the years.

No amount of intimidation, however, will ever lock us away again. Lesbians, gay males, bisexuals, transgender people and our loving and supportive heterosexual allies are coming out in greater numbers than ever before, as witnessed in the large outpouring of grief, anger and love in remembrance of Larry. As marginalized people, we are pushing the boundaries, unwilling any longer to accept the repressive status quo.

One year before he was slain, gay San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk recorded a will that was to be played in the event of his assassination. In it he stated that he never considered himself simply as a candidate for public office, but rather, always considered himself as part of a movement: a liberation movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and a liberation movement for all people.

Each time Harvey spoke in front of a crowd, he urged people to come out everywhere and often: "Tell your immediate family," he would say. "Tell friends, neighbors, people in the stores you shop in, cab drivers, everyone." And he urged heterosexual people to be our allies, to interrupt derogatory remarks and jokes, to support us and offer aid when needed. If we all did this, he said, we could change the world.

Well, in his brief time with us, Lawrence King also changed lives. His caring soul transformed the people he met. Though his murderer may have succeeded in devastating his body, he did not and will never succeed in destroying his gentle spirit, or in extinguishing the heart of a community and a movement for social justice, for Larry's spirit continues, inspiring a people, a nation, a world.

I truly believe that love will conquer the hatred. To Larry, to Matthew, to Gwen, to Brandon, to Billy Jack, to Charlie, to Harvey, and all the others, thank you for the riches you have left us. We will continue the struggle in your name to make the world a safer and more supportive environment for all its people. May you find the peace in death that you could not always find in life.

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