We Can, and Must, Keep All Youth Safe
This week, Out for Justice was written by NCLR’s Youth Project Director, Jody Marksamer.
Fifteen-year-old Lawrence King identified himself as gay. He was out to his classmates at school. Sometimes he wore make-up, feminine jewelry, and high heeled boots. Like many other LGBT youth, Larry was the target of ridicule and harassment by some of his classmates for his gender expression and being authentic about his sexual orientation. But this harassment and bullying escalated far beyond that endured by many other LGBT youth behind schoolhouse doors. On February 12, 2008, Larry King was murdered by Brandon McInerney, a fourteen-year-old classmate. Larry was shot twice in the head while sitting in the computer lab at E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, California. We all are shocked, angry, and deeply saddened by this tragedy and our hearts and thoughts go out to the many who loved and supported Larry.
With LGBT youth coming out at younger ages, it is vital that our schools - especially our junior high and middle schools - embrace young people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Schools need to be proactive about creating environments that ensure that all young people have a safe place to learn. Passing state laws aimed at preventing harassment and violence in schools, like the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, is a necessary starting point. But that is not enough. Even in states like California, where we have these protections, violence against LGBT students happens all too often. In addition to strong laws and policies, we must ensure that teachers and administrators are well-trained and are able to respond to harassment in a way that stops it and keeps it from escalating. We must ensure that schools teach all students tolerance and respect.
It is a tragedy when a young person loses their life, especially as violently and senselessly as Larry King did. Our responsibility to our children and our children’s children is to change the culture of violence and intolerance so there are no more deaths, either at the hands of those who fear us or self-inflicted. Since 1993, NCLR’s youth project has been committed to bringing the issues faced by LGBT youth front and center, so that all LGBT young people can be safe and live openly with the support they need to reach their full potential. We write and help to pass laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, foster care, and juvenile justice systems. We train social workers, teachers, foster parents, lawyers, and administrators on how to meet their legal responsibility to protect the LGBT youth in their care and how to support environments that foster acceptance. We empower young people to know their rights and demand that the adults responsible for their safety and well-being treat them fairly and with the respect they deserve and that the law requires.
We know our work is making a difference for LGBT youth everyday across the country, allowing countless LGBT young people to be understood, grow, thrive, and live authentic lives free of violence and discrimination. We can move even closer to this goal if we commit to work together and with our allies to envision schools and communities that value and embrace all young people. This is an audacious goal, but it is the very least we owe Lawrence King.
NCLR Youth Project Director