Two days before a shotgun-wielding Steven Kazmierczak shot 21 students inside a lecture hall on the campus of Northern Illinois University, taking the lives of five people as well as his own, 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King was shot in the head at the E.O. Green School in Oxnard, California, reportedly for being gay. He was in the eighth grade.
Three days after the shooting, on February 15, King was taken off life support and pronounced dead.
King’s killer, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney, apparently targeted the student because he was openly gay and sometimes dressed in women’s clothes. King also wore makeup and jewelry to class on occasion. It’s possible that McInerney, who has been charged with murder and the commission of a hate crime, will be tried as an adult, which means he could face 50 years to life in prison if convicted.
King’s death came 10 years after the brutal murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was also killed because of his sexual orientation. But for some reason, King’s murder generated just a fraction of the media coverage that follows most school-shooting incidents. In fact, most of the initial reports about the killing were turned out by local news agencies, and the national media didn’t catch up until several days later.
A series of candlelight vigils have been held throughout the U.S. in the wake of the student’s death (an estimated 1,000 people marched in Oxnard the weekend following the murder), in an effort to raise awareness of what many feel was a largely underreported case. MTV News attended one such vigil on Friday night, just outside of Los Angeles, where dozens gathered — not with candles but glowsticks — to remember King.
Now the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a leading gay-rights student organization, has decided to make King’s murder one of the central themes of this year’s annual Day of Silence on April 25.
“This year, we’re going to incorporate, within the Day of Silence, a way for students to remember Lawrence King and sort of use it as a day to honor him and to bring attention to what happened,” said GLSEN spokesperson Daryl Presgraves. “The overall themes will include King and the immediate need to address anti-LGBT harassment. If ever there were a sign that schools need to realize how far such harassment can go, and why it’s important to address it now, it’s Lawrence King.”
Since King’s murder, there have been 30 candlelight vigils throughout the country, with one planned for Washington, D.C., early next week (a complete list of these events can be found at GLSEN.org). Presgraves wasn’t sure exactly how the national Day of Silence would commemorate King’s passing, but said the theme of the day will be remembering the slain student.
“It’s a prevalent and pervasive problem in all of our schools,” he said of anti-LGBT violence and bullying, adding that he’s not quite sure why King’s death was all but ignored by the national media. “For whatever reason, there’s still a lack of willingness to address the anti-LGBT bullying that goes on in schools. We don’t know why, but there’s still sort of this sense of having our heads buried in the sand. What happened to Lawrence King is a much more isolated incident, but what happened leading up to his death happens to youth every day, all the time. He was just expressing himself, and we’re seeing more of this — youth are being open at an earlier age, and they are proud of their identities, but that doesn’t mean someone won’t bully them for it. In this case, King was bullied to such an extreme … you can’t get worse than that.”
In addition to organizing the national Day of Silence, GLSEN pushes for anti-LGBT-bullying legislation, and works with schools to tackle the problem. Currently, there are only 10 states that protect students from bullying based on sexual orientation: California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. Five of those states protect students based on gender expression and identity (California, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota and New Jersey).
“We encourage all states that it’s something they can start addressing,” Presgraves said. “In almost every state, there is something that can be done right away.”
Go to think.mtv.com to find out how to get involved and four things you can do to help stop anti-LGBT bullying.