Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Shell Game

The quoted paragraphs below appeared in Tuesday's Missisippi State University
Reflector. The title of the opinion piece, written by Lazarus Austin was: "Schools Overplay Gay Tolerance"

Mr. Austin,

Your recent post shows a significant lack of understanding of what forces were actually at work in this tragedy and, indeed, assumptions about the details of the case rather than known facts and educated opinions. It begins with your headline: "Schools Overplay Gay Tolerance".
That is a prejudicial headline which both misstates the school district's position and attempts to trump the actual details of the case by positioning it as a "gay tolerance" issue. The school district was not being "gay tolerant" with regard to Larry King. The school was being both tolerant and respectful towards an individual's right to freely express themselves without regard to arbitrary gender stereotypes. Whether or not Larry chose to self-identify as gay is irrelevant to how he expressed his gender identity. There are heterosexual students who identify in gender non-stereotypical ways. And from all existing evidence, it was Larry's feminine expression that escalated things to their violent outcome.

You wrote:
"In February, Lawrence King was shot to death at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif. What sets his murder apart from others is that King was openly gay. He often flirted with his fellow male students and wore feminine apparel and accessories. His murder has brought onslaughts of paranoia and calls for tolerance by gay rights advocates."
Larry King self-identified as "gay"...which I suppose makes him as "openly gay" as any of the other students who were "openly straight". He did not, as you stated "often flirt with his fellow male students". That is your attempt to prejudice the reader against the victim. Larry, in response to bullying and teasing from larger and more aggressive boys responded with the only 'weapon' he had...his sense of humor and knowledge that he could make these macho boys nervous simply by acting interested in them.

You wrote:
"According to The Washington Post, gay rights advocates are claiming that King's murder is the "extreme consequence of a growing but often ignored phenomenon." The phenomenon they are referring to is homophobia."

There are many organizations (not just 'gay rights advocates') who believe that bullying based upon real or perceived sexual orientation is a growing and overlooked problem in not simply our schools, but our society as a whole. In reality, many of these organizations are themselves overlooking the core basis for this bullying and harassment. It's not truly based on sexual orientation, but rather on gender expression and gender non-conforming identity. THAT is why so-called "straight-acting" people are generally not victimized. it's not about who you are attracted's about how far from someone's arbitrary sense of gender appropriate behavior a child, youth or any individual wanders.
You wrote:
"As a result, they are calling for more tolerance education in schools and stricter anti-harassment rules. Many middle schools and high schools are opening gay and lesbian clubs for students. Other schools are openly teaching students about homosexuality at an early age, often at the frustration of parents."
In point of fact, long before the murder of Larry King school districts that are committed to a safe and supportive education for ALL students encouraged GSA's (Gay/Straight Alliances) and tolerance education for students, faculty and staff. Encouraging people to understand each other's differences is NOT the same as "teaching homosexuality at an early age." If it were possible to "teach" sexual orientation, then wouldn't it stand to reason that in a predominantly heterosexual world/culture that all of the children would be "taught" heterosexuality at an early age?
If the death of Larry King proves one thing, it's that children more often bully, abuse, harass and, yes, kill other children and youth who they have an unfounded fear or lack of understanding of. Keeping them in the dark about people's differences is NOT the solution to the animosity that exists between some hetero-centric families or religions and people who may be gay or gender non-conforming.

You wrote:
"Furthermore, schools are cracking down on bullying. They, of course, do not want bullies harassing people with a different religious belief, sexual preference, race or gender."
I assume you think this is a good idea...but I could be wrong.

You wrote:
"I have two problems with the controversy. First, people are blowing the situation out of proportion and automatically assuming King's murderer killed him simply because King was gay. This reminds me of how people love to cry racism when someone kills a person of a different race.

His alleged murderer, Brandon McInerney, 14, also an eighth-grader, had a rough upbringing. According to The Washington Post, McInerney's parents divorced in 2002. His mother dealt with drug issues, the father had been accused of shooting his mother in the elbow, both parents had filed restraining orders against the other and both had been accused of domestic violence. Supposedly, McInerney was a good kid in school, so the results of his upbringing are hard to judge. However, if you ask me, McInerney was probably a fuse ready to explode, and King's fraternization possibly sparked it, which brings me to my second point."
Mr. Austin...I'm not sure if it's even possible to blow the execution (with two shots to the back of the head) of a 15-year old in a classroom "out of proportion" for any reason...but there is much more than assumption behind Brandon's motivation for murdering Lawrence King. No one is 'crying homophobia' simply because the victim self-identified as gay. The district attorney, fellow students, faculty, staff and parents know that Larry was killed by Brandon as a result of his combination of gay self-identity and gender expression because the day before the shooting at least 10 students overheard Brandon McInerney specifically threaten Larry with a expletive-filled reference to his gay self-identity.
In your second paragraph above, you clearly contradict yourself. On the one hand you make a case for Brandon's rough upbringing, parental violence and drug issues, etc. and then you say "McInerney was a good kid in school, so the results of his upbringing are hard to judge". You then go on to throw out all of the information about his upbringing and other influences and assume McInerney was a "fuse ready to explode" and imply that "King's fraternization possibly sparked it".

What exactly do you mean by 'fraternization'? We find out what you meant in your second paragraph;
"By imposing his homosexuality on McInerney, he may have set McInerney off. McInerney may not have had an innate hatred of gay people. In fact, he may have tolerated homosexuality, while simultaneously thinking it was immoral, sinful or simply "uncool," like many people do. King, however, may have gone too far by imposing his sexuality on others. Although King by no means deserved his fate, he may have unfortunately invited it."

This paragraph peels away all pretense of serious analysis of what happened on your part. Larry King was approx. 5'5" tall, slight of build, quiet and, yes, feminine. Brandon McInerney was, at 14 years old, almost 6 feet tall, a talented basketball & football player, a black-belt in martial arts and a former member of The Young Marines JROTC type of organization. In what way might Larry have "imposed" his homosexuality on McInerney?

Did he pin him to the wall and force kisses on him? Did he throw him to the ground and have his way with him? Perhaps Larry "imposed his homosexuality" on Brandon the same way a rape victim "imposes her female sexuality" on a rapist?
You then go on to fabricate the thought that, perhaps, Brandon McInerney tolerated homosexuality but brought religious judgments to it. There is no evidence to that effect fact, quite the contrary. You then again blame the victim by saying Larry "went too far" and imposed his sexuality on others. All Larry did was say "I'm gay" and begin dressing in a more feminine fashion (which has NOTHING to do with his being gay, by the way.)

Are we at the point where what we choose to wear and how we choose to identify ourselves justifies violence against us by others who think we may have gone "too far"?
Larry did not "invite" anyone to shoot him twice in the back of the head in his morning classroom. If you can seriously entertain that idea, then you may be in need of the same counseling that I hope Brandon McInerney will receive in the coming weeks, months and years.
You wrote:
"Now, gay rights advocates would like to force their homosexuality on others and promote tolerance in schools. Doesn't sound so bad, does it? The problem lies in their methods. Many of them, by teaching tolerance, also teach values, whether intentionally or not.

The focus should be on targeting harassment, not tolerance per se. Promoting tolerance can instill in children's minds moral and religious values. Furthermore, it can make them think that homosexuality is the norm and, in my opinion, encourages them to be gay, which is OK but not something schools should be promoting. If at all, tolerance should formally be taught at the upper grade levels, starting at high school.

Some gay rights advocates would have homosexuals permeate society, from TV shows and films to teachers and bishops. I say just let people be gay, don't forcefully stick them in everybody's faces and in the limelight."

There are so many fallacies, prejudicial assumptions, convoluted thoughts and contradictory statements above that they actually speak for themselves. You want to 'talk tolerance' as a concept, but somehow also say "Now, don't be TOO tolerant, because tolerance leads to becoming that very thing you tolerate." You know...I tolerate arch-conservative, evangelical Christians, Muslims, Jews & Mormons and have done so for years without ever ONCE having considered becoming one myself.
You don't mind if there are gay people, so long as they stay hidden, ashamed, and out of your line of sight. Anything more than that is "forcefully sticking it in everyone's faces" and, by extension, "inviting" a violent fate at the hands of otherwise 'tolerant' people who might just be pushed too far. Sad.

You wrote:
"King sounds like he was a good kid, and what McInerney did was absolutely unjustifiable. However, some want to use King as a martyr for the wrong reasons. Gay people should and do have just as many rights as the rest of us, but no more. Minorities shouldn't get special privileges, only equal privileges. However, murderers, including those of gay people, should get a special privilege, the privilege of rotting their lives away in prison where they deserve to be."
It's nice that you include murdering gay people as a bad thing. Thank you. I hope that wasn't a 'big stretch' for you.
In reality, there are several rights that children like Larry King do NOT have, as evidenced by your own words. They do NOT have the right to self-identify their sexuality in a way that feels right to them, without possibly "inviting" a violent fate. Kids like Larry King (straight & gay) do not have the right to express their gender identity in a way that doesn't conform to someone else's stereotype of what is acceptable for a boy, or a girl or someone who might feel 'in-between' at some point in their life.

Larry King, in the absence of possessing the physical strength or size to physically defend himself from Brandon McInerney did not have the freedom to NOT choose violence as a response to his bullying (for Larry, a gun would have been a great equalizer, no?). Instead, Larry teased back....he refused to be driven into the shadows by those who bullied him. He used the very thing that made his abusers uncomfortable enough to tease him as a non-violent form of self-defense against them. Apparently, non-violence was not one of the rights afforded to Larry.
Brandon McInerney will probably, spend the most productive of his years behind bars. That apparently will suit your sense of justice. But in the end, Larry King is still large part because of the "tolerate, but only to a point" mixed message that you and people like you try to foist off onto the public as a reasoned approach to homosexuality and, more accurately, gender non-conforming expression.
You have blood on your soul, if not on your hands. I only hope you realize it in enough time to make a difference before it happens again.
Jenn Burleton
Portland, OR

1 comment:

Lanita Bonita said...

if you’re in the mood for a good laugh, I found a pretty funny impersonation of Larry King: