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Gay student dies after classroom attack
Eighth grader was shot in the head by bullying classmate

by David Stout . Q-Notes staff

Lawrence King paid the ultimate price for being gay and gender non-conforming.
OXNARD, Calif. — A brutal homophobic shooting that took the life of an openly gay middle school student has left the LGBT community reeling. On Feb. 12, eighth grader Lawrence King, 15, was shot twice by a fellow student while in class at E.O. Green Junior High School.

King was openly gay and sometimes wore feminine clothing and makeup to school. His killer, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney, was allegedly among a group of students that regularly bullied King for his sexual orientation and gender expression.

After the shooting, which occurred in a classroom with approximately 20 other pupils, students told Ventura County investigators that Lawrence had been in a verbal altercation with McInerney and other boys the day before.

Doctors at St. John’s Regional Medical Center pronounced King brain dead on Feb. 13, but the decision was made by the boy’s father, Greg King, to keep him alive by a ventilator for organ donation. When the machine was turned off the following day, King was gone.

King was a resident at Casa Pacifica, a foster care facility for abused and neglected children. Steve Elson, the head of the agency, told The Associated Press, “We’re are all stunned and it’s just an unspeakable tragedy. This is a very big traumatic experience for all of us.” Elson added that King was well-liked by the other children at Casa Pacifica.

Prosecutors have charged McInerney with first-degree murder with a hate-crime enhancement. He will be tried as an adult. Senior Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox told the Ventura County Star that first-degree murder carries a sentence of 25 years to life, the use of a firearm carries 25 to life, and the hate crime carries an enhancement of one to three years.

News of the attack sent shockwaves through the queer community. Leaders of numerous national rights groups issued statements mourning King’s death. They also seized upon the tragedy as an opportunity to address the violence that LGBT students face every day.

“This incident of senseless violence is truly horrifying, and our hearts go out to the student’s friends, family and the E.O. Green School community,” said Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). “As a nation, we’ve had our heads in the sand for far too long. We need to do everything we can to prevent something like this from happening again.

“We must confront the fact that LGBT students are much more likely to be threatened with a weapon and much more likely to feel unsafe at school than other students.”

A 2005 Harris Interactive report commissioned by GLSEN found that two of the top three reasons students say their peers are harassed in school are actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression. (Physical appearance topped the list.)

The finding followed a 2001 survey for the California Department of Education that showed students who were harassed because they are, or are perceived to be, gay or lesbian were more than five times more likely than other students to report being threatened or injured with a weapon.

Filmmaker Debra Chasnoff said, “Ten years ago we released the educational documentary ‘It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School’ and it helped spark a movement to make schools safer places for all children by encouraging K-8 teachers to weave respectful information about LGBT people into their lesson plans.

“Ironically, this week we are re-releasing this film because it’s time for a new generation of teachers to get on board to ensure that their schools and classrooms are safe for all students, including those like Lawrence King who don’t fit neatly in a box of the stereotype of how boys are supposed to be.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “This incident is another heartbreaking reminder of how often young people must endure intimidation or violence in school because of their sexual orientation or the way they express their gender identity.

“While California’s residents are fortunate to have state laws that provide some protection against hate crimes and school bullying, this pattern of violence against LGBT students is repeated too often in schools and communities across America each day. This tragedy illustrates the need to pass a federal hate crimes law to ensure everyone is protected against violent, bias-motivated crimes, wherever they reside.”

At press time, candlelight vigils and memorial services for Lawrence King are being organized in cities across the country from California to New Jersey. A website, www.remembering
lawrence.org, has been established to remember King and to keep track of the various events being held in his memory.

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