As an advocate of LGBTQ rights who was born and raised in Oxnard, I was excited to see that there was some ongoing talk about the Larry King murder trial in the local papers. As I began to read your article, however, I was gravely disappointed to see you bypass the major issues of homophobia and heterosexism that are present in this case. To add insult to injury, the responses to your article in the Aug. 18 edition of the VC Reporter showed me what a long way our community has to go. Understanding and accepting lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered and queer identified people is only the first step; we must actively challenge and eliminate homophobia and hate.
To begin, your article suggests that his friends and mentors did harm to him by not stopping him from standing out. I find it devastating that you believe telling Larry not to be himself would be the solution to his facing an explicitly homophobic school environment (not to mention a homophobic society overall). You are essentially justifying the homophobic bullying and taunting he faced and his murder in saying that Larry should not have been advised to “stand out.” Telling people who are LGBT or Q not to “stand out” is exactly the problem. The heteronormative culture in which we live deems heterosexuality “normal,” and it is thus accepted and rewarded. Thus, bullying and taunting operate as the guns and arms of our homophobic culture to protect and reinforce heterosexuality by policing gender performance in a way that makes heterosexuals — the dominant group — feel comfortable. So when young people like Larry openly challenge those values (as they should) by virtue of who they are, it suddenly becomes OK to have those people eliminated? In the same way that the student from UCLA, Alexandra Wallace, wanted Asians to be more “American,” you and some of your readers are asking that LGBTQ folks should hide who they are, as if that was the real issue.
Furthermore, I am shocked at some of the implications of you and your readers. Jan Richman Schulman asked if anyone tried to “… help [Brandon] deal with Larry’s taunts?” and referred to Larry’s behavior toward Brandon as “harassment.” And despite the fact that Schulman recognizes that “Telling a gay student to conform and act like everyone else is not an answer,” this reader does not understand the power dynamics between a gay boy who does not conform to gender norms and a straight boy who bullies him. When you move through life as an oppressed person, facing constant marginalization and taunting by institutions and people, keeping quiet is the last thing you want to do.
But when you know no one is on your side, you also know that throwing up your fist can be fruitless and painful. So perhaps for Larry, blowing kisses at Brandon was his way of saying, “I’m here and I’m queer; get used to it.” I would hardly consider that taunting, much less cause for being murdered. If Larry had been a girl, I am sure Brandon and those who have excused his actions would not have considered blowing kisses and saying “I love you, baby” harassment.
Toward the end of your article, you say, “There is no undoing Brandon’s decision to eliminate a perceived problem by destroying the human being he blamed for his frustration and humiliation. Does that make him a cold-blooded killer doomed to repeat such terrible acts as an adult?” My answer to your question is that even if Brandon never kills again, that does not mean that other killings like this won’t happen again. And while locking Brandon up for life might not be a remedy against future hate killings, we need to stop thinking about cases like this in isolation. By letting Brandon off, even with a shorter sentence — Oscar Grant style — we send a message that hate and violence against the LGBTQ community is justified. The law and major cases like this have a huge influence on societal values. Take Brown v. Board of Education, for example. It is a moment in history that we point to, to explain why segregation and racial discrimination are wrong. If every time that a young boy kills another boy for being gay can be explained by “a string of emotions that result in odd behaviors,” then it suddenly becomes OK for young people to do just that. And if it starts there, then there is no telling where it will stop.
I understand that Brandon McInerney had a tough home life that contributed to his ultimate decision to kill Larry King — I am sure there are many murderers and rapists who have had tough home lives — but that does not justify him murdering a young boy out of hate. The justice system exists to punish criminals so that they and the public understand that their crimes are wrong and cannot go unpunished. The same must be done with Brandon McInerney.
As a side note, I find it baffling that in an article covering a hate crime against a gay student, the word “homophobia” is nowhere to be found. Yours is not the only one. Think about that.
Melissa Ramirez-Medina has a Bachelor of Arts in Gender and Womyn’s Studies, Education, from the University of California, Berkeley. She is an Oxnard resident.
Editor’s note: In no way does the writer of “Reading between the lines,” who is also the editor of the VCReporter, feel it is OK to have young people like Larry eliminated for any reason.