One year ago today, Lawrence “Larry” King, a 15-year-old student at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, California, was shot to death in class by the boy he asked to be his Valentine. By the time he was killed, Larry had endured years of relentless teasing and bullying from his classmates, both because he was openly gay and because of his gender expression. Though his killer has not explicitly said why he murdered Larry, classmates believe it was because he himself was subjected to anti-gay harassment after his friends learned he was the object of Larry’s affections.
I was talking about Larry’s story with a friend here at the ACLU, who called it “heartbreaking.” It is. So is the story of Matthew Shepard. And Gwen Araujo. And Brandon Teena. And the countless other young LGBT people who survived the violence they endured at the hands of their neighbors and classmates — which is almost all of them. I can’t believe we’ve gotten to 2009 and nine out of ten lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students still report that they get harassed at school. But those are the facts.
I say enough is enough. If you agree with me, I’ll ask you to do two things. First, go to Remembering Lawrence, a web site created by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to memorialize and honor Larry King. There you’ll find a list of vigils being held today across the country, as well as online “virtual” vigils. Join one of these vigils and help raise awareness that anti-LGBT bullying in our schools is truly a life-or-death issue.
Then tomorrow — and next week and next month and next year — be an ally to LGBT youth. Teach your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and any other youth in your life that anti-gay teasing and bullying is not okay. When you hear kids using words like “faggot” or “dyke” or the phrase “that’s so gay,” tell them to knock it off.
If you are a teacher or educator or otherwise work with youth, keep an eye out for anti-LGBT harassment and, when it happens, intervene.
If you’re a parent, let your children’s school know that you expect their classrooms and hallways to be places where all students — gay and straight alike — can feel safe and respected.
And no matter who you are, join the Tell 3 campaign and have three conversations with adults close to you about the harassment LGBT youth face, how serious it is, and what it would mean to you if they also took action to end it.
Bullying and harassment of LGBT youth will only end with the support of straight allies. You can honor Lawrence King today — and everyday — by being the adult who makes sure that none of the youth in your life or community meet the same fate.