Brandon McInerney | Bullying | California | Larry King | Ramin Setoodeh

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The AP On Bullying And Blame

LarryKing-BrandonMcInernyA fascinating AP survey of the last year's anti-bullying sentiment appears in today's Washington Post. It's a well written, balanced, succinct piece of work, and it's probably doomed to aggravate a lot of people. 

Writes the AP:

Federal laws clearly uphold students’ rights to express sexual orientation -- boys, for example, are legally allowed to wear skirts just as girls can wear pants -- and obligate schools to provide all students with a safe environment, but problems tend to arise on a social level, often outside the classroom.

The California trial of 17-year-old Brandon McInerney, charged in the 2008 classroom killing of 15-year-old Larry King, showed how a school fulfilled the law by upholding a boy’s right to wear makeup and high heels, but grappled with the social fallout -- bullying of King and King’s response, which was to aggressively flaunt his sexual orientation, including flirtatious and harassing comments to boys.

One of them, McInerney, then 14, is accused of shooting King to death in a classroom. After an August trial ended in a hung jury, prosecutors now plan a second trial.

Testimony from several teachers showed they struggled to cope with escalating tension between King and his bullies, while also respecting his civil rights.

Read from one POV, this reportage is just good common sense. Out gay kids are more likely to get teased than closeted ones. Teased kids, possessing egos like the rest of us, may well respond to teasing with aggression. Tensions may escalate, violence may be done, and some sensitive soul will inevitably wonder if the coming out was worth the trouble.

Read from another POV, the AP story comes perilously close to victim-blaming.

This line has been straddled before, and much less sensitively -- notably in a famous Newsweek story from 2008. In that story, full-time Newsweek writer and freelance gay-baiter Ramin Settodeh described Larry King's relationship with Joy Epstein, an assistant principal at his school:

... as Larry became less inhibited, Epstein became more a source of some teachers' confusion and anger. Epstein, a calm, brown-haired woman with bifocals, was openly gay to her colleagues, and although she was generally not out to her students, she kept a picture of her partner on her desk that some students saw ...

... she formed a special bond with Larry, who was in the eighth grade. He dropped by her office regularly, either for counseling or just to talk -- she won't say exactly. "There was no reason why I specifically started working with Larry," Epstein says. "He came to me." Some teachers believe that she was encouraging Larry's flamboyance, to help further an "agenda," as some put it. One teacher complains that by being openly gay and discussing her girlfriend (presumably, no one would have complained if she had talked about a husband), Epstein brought the subject of sex into school ...

... William Quest, Brandon's public defender, hasn't disclosed his defense strategy, but he has accused the school of failing to intercede as the tension rose between Larry and Brandon. Quest calls Epstein "a lesbian vice principal with a political agenda." Larry's father also blames Epstein. He's hired an attorney and says he is seriously contemplating a wrongful-death lawsuit. "She started to confuse her role as a junior-high principal," Greg King says. "I think that she was asserting her beliefs for gay rights."

Stomach-churning though it may be, that's all straight reporting. The AP story is more free-form, and the writer was at far greater liberty than Settodeh to curate ideas and quotes at will. As a result, it reads more like an attempt by a rational person to participate in a conversation that, so far, has been largely ceded to certain sects of literate homophobes. How misguided, the writer seems to wonder, is the perceived dogma that it's a good idea for all 14-year-olds to come out, at all times and in all plces? And if that dogma exists, how much havoc has it wrought? Towards the top of the AP story, the writer includes this graf:

"A lot of people have the idea that coming out as soon as possible will make themselves feel more comfortable," said Raymond Ferronato, a 16-year-old gay junior in Antioch, Calif. "I tell them come out when you’re ready to come out, and only do it when you’re safe."

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Comments

  1. Can someone explain what authority this prosecutor has in trying him for the same crime all over again?

    The kid was 14 and lived with an abusive racist father.

    He should never have been charged as an adult. You cannot force laws onto kids before they are of age to vote.

    Remember the whole taxation without representation, this seems like criminalization without representation for the young.

    PS, I am gay.

    Posted by: Toyotabedzrock | Oct 23, 2011 12:13:27 PM


  2. OK Brandon you really do go on too much. "Brevity is the soul of wit" - Shakespeare

    Posted by: uffda | Oct 23, 2011 12:17:18 PM


  3. "Laying in wait" (as Barndon quite obviously was) automatically changes the crime to an adult one.

    IT'S A THE LAW. IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE LAW -- CHANGE IT!!!!!

    "Can someone explain what authority this prosecutor has in trying him for the same crime all over again?"

    BECAUSE IT WAS A HUNG JURY, MORON!!!!!!

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Oct 23, 2011 12:36:18 PM


  4. The article suggests that hiding one's sexual orientation is an effective mitigation of bullying. That the child murdered was Out and fighting back (teasing? back) provides evidence that being Out was an aggravating factor - it also provides evidence that fighting back was an aggravating factor.

    Much more common than the gay kid (closeted or no) being shot execution style by a white supremacist is the gay kid taking his/her own life.

    I would like writers who delve into this topic to offer more evidence that the femme who remains closeted both protects himself from despair (& the very real and common risk of suicide) and from the violence of his intolerant peers.

    Posted by: Glenn I | Oct 23, 2011 12:57:25 PM


  5. The "did Larry King 'bully back'" issue is one big straw man. It gets people to debate that issue, and invites people to make a verdict on that, instead of the whole "did Brandon murder Larry?" question -- which is an absolute yes.

    Let's make this as clear as it gets: Brandon planned and MURDERED Larry King. That's what matters. Period.

    I have no idea what went on behind the scenes; what I do know is that *it doesn't matter.* What matters is Brandon McInerny coldly came up with a plan to kill Larry King, committed to it and carried it out. He *must* live with the consequences for his actions, a verdict of murder in the first degree. Anything short of that betrays justice as it ignores what he actually did.

    Posted by: Ryan | Oct 23, 2011 1:27:11 PM


  6. Precisely, Ryan.

    That's what the prosecution MUST emphasize in the retrial.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Oct 23, 2011 2:33:15 PM


  7. This is from the article that Brandon Thorp likes:

    "Federal laws clearly uphold students’ rights to express sexual orientation -- boys, for example, are legally allowed to wear skirts just as girls can wear pants --"

    Brandon, not too long ago, any gay person with an IQ over 50 would be able to explain that cross-dressing and transvestitism are not "sexual orientations" and that it is a foul stereotype to suggest that being a gay boy means that you want to wear dresses.

    So why in 2011 can't you, a veteran gay journalist, spot the obvious error and stereotyping? Is it because your critical mind has been dulled by the mantra of "LGBT" which falsely tells the world - including the Associated Press - that gays are properly characterized as having some defining common trait with cross-dressers and transsexuals? LGBT is a reactionary concept dressed up as a progressive concept. And you can see its noxious results right here on Towleroad.

    Posted by: David | Oct 23, 2011 3:05:13 PM


  8. Larry's father also blames Epstein. He's hired an attorney and says he is seriously contemplating a wrongful-death lawsuit. "She started to confuse her role as a junior-high principal," Greg King says. "I think that she was asserting her beliefs for gay rights."

    Why wasn't he being a "FATHER"? Larry was in a group home, because he was not doing HIS JOB. He is worse than Brandon's father. Now he is trying to blame someone who cared for Larry just because she is lesbian. He should pay her for libel.

    Posted by: Joey | Oct 23, 2011 3:37:03 PM


  9. I can't help wonder what society would say if women began shooting and killing men everytime they were on the receiving end of an unwanted advance.

    Posted by: scollingsworth | Oct 23, 2011 3:47:49 PM


  10. We would have fewer, but better, men.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Oct 23, 2011 4:34:03 PM


  11. Thanks Brandon, but I can determine if a piece is "good" or "straight reporting" for myself.

    Posted by: Lill | Oct 23, 2011 5:23:37 PM


  12. I am adjusting to Brandon's style (as opposed to Andy's or even Penn's) as well, but some of you seem to be critical because of resistance tot he topic or discussion or your perception of which side he's on. That seems unfair.

    Brandon got some constructive feedback on a piece from yesterday (the bath salts piece), and I hope he pays attention, but to attack him for THIS post being too long (most of it is quotes with appropriate context and set-up, showing how all sides were presented) and attacking him for classifying something as "straight reporting" (which is a great point in context: a list of facts, presented without apparent bias is straight reporting. Its good to point that out in a world where we react to everything, even facts, as of they are opinion that can be accepted or not depending on whether we agree--see FOX news and how they treat all facts and reporting that offend their sensibilities) especially when he says it in the context of saying, "no matter what you think that's at least straight reporting, BUT look at this other thing which may cross a line"...thats legitimate journalistic context.

    Finally, there's nothing about a blogger, including Andy or anyone else on the Web, saying "a good piece by.." or "he makes a good argument in this piece for equality" or "Here's a good post by..." To attack a new blogger on the site with an "I can decide what's good or not" when we dont respond to every aggregate blogger who does the same thing seems unfair.

    All I am saying is give the guy a chance. He is an award winning journalist who is going to offer some context and set-up, maybe more than usual, but that does not make him personally long winded, or that context bad, and he's going to have some hits or misses (bath salts) as he gets to know the audience and rhythm of this site and community. I say we let him have that chance and then judge.

    Posted by: BreckRoy | Oct 23, 2011 6:45:14 PM


  13. Thanks, BreckRoy. Much appreciated.

    - BKT

    Posted by: Brandon K. Thorp | Oct 23, 2011 6:58:00 PM


  14. We can put this more neutrally if we make this about something other than sexual orientation. Much as I dislike the fact, adolescents will harass anyone perceived as different. Wearing a hejab or having a skin color markedly different from the crowd will also subject the teenager to negative attention from peers. The other unfortunate fact is that authorities cannot protect their charges at all times and in all places. Most of us have to learn how and when to cloak unpopular truths about ourselves. Rather than promoting brutal honesty, perhaps schools might better serve their charges by teaching protective coloration.

    That said, taking another life is wrong. Society is obliged to express its disapprobation through the legal system.

    Posted by: Rich | Oct 23, 2011 7:06:50 PM


  15. Frankly, I feel awkward about asking this, given the serious nature of the story--but English isn't my first language, and trying to google hasn't helped me other than to discover "graf" is a German nobility title similar to "Earl" for the English and a nickname for a female tennis player. Can someone tell me how to interpret the author's statement: "...the writer includes this graf"? Thanks!

    Posted by: Ty Nolan | Oct 23, 2011 8:16:22 PM


  16. Dear Ty:

    Sorry about that. Its slang for paragraph.

    - BKT

    Posted by: Brandon K. Thorp | Oct 23, 2011 8:38:45 PM


  17. Hey Brandon:
    PLEASE keep on writing despite the opprobrium of a few unhappy campers. (Although you might want to double check your spelling.)

    I disagree with your conclusion that the "reportage" is "good common sense" from one POV. There are NO studies showing out kids are teased more. (Your usage of "teased" instead of "bullied" also minimizes the actions of the initial aggressor(s).)

    Furthermore, many "teased" kids suffer damage to their egos and many tend to withdraw and become depressed (as opposed to engaging their aggressors, as you suggest), some ultimately spiraling downward towards suicide.

    It is NOT common sense that escalating tensions between students should result in "violence" being done to the initial victim of the bullying;

    In King's case, "the sensitive soul" wasn't left alive "to wonder if the coming out process was worth it."

    Ryan's comment has it right: McInerny coldly came up with a plan to kill Larry King, committed to it and carried it out. The underlying reason(s) that might have drove the killer to act cannot change the fact that he shot King dead.

    To somehow blame King or his coming out (or even his "teasing") ignores the pervasive homophobia that has been inculcated in our society by certain religions and their dogma that LGBT people are abominations worthy of death.

    That is the real truth underlying this tragedy and it is the stigma we all must fight until we win our rightful place as equals in this society and around the world.

    Posted by: TruthSeeker_Too | Oct 24, 2011 7:34:26 AM


  18. TruthSeeker_Too:

    Thanks much!

    Im gonna disagree with the second part of your note. You wrote: There are NO studies showing out kids are teased more. I feel like thats a red herring. Obviously, kids who are thought to be straight will, on average, be bullied less than kids thought to be gay. And one excellent way to ensure people think youre gay is to tell them: Hey! Im gay!

    Which isnt an argument against coming out in high school or middle school. At most, its an argument against glibly minimizing the consequences of coming out. Coming out isnt a panacea. And for some kids, in certain places and situations, its not a great idea.

    You also wrote: It is NOT common sense that escalating tensions between students should
    result in violence being done to the initial victim of the bullying. I think youre correct, when these situations are viewed on a case-by-case basis. Theres no reason why any one conflict between two particular students should devolve into violence.

    That said, were sharing a planet with 7 billion humans. Something like 2 billion of those are student-age. With so many kids running around, some tensions between students definitely will devolve into violence, and a subset of those devolutions definitely will be mortal. Some kids will have mental problems, some of these will go undiagnosed, some kids will be abused, some kids will snap, some seemingly healthy kids will arrive at crazy conclusions that will lead them to do awful things and nobody will ever explain why. With 2 billion kids, all of this will occur. Its a mathematical necessity.

    You wrote: The underlying reason(s) that might have drove the killer to act cannot
    change the fact that he shot King dead.

    To somehow blame King or his coming out (or even his teasing) ignores
    the pervasive homophobia that has been inculcated in our society by
    certain religions and their dogma that LGBT people are abominations
    worthy of death.

    I agree completely, re: blame. Kings certainly not complicit in his own death. Pervasive homophobia is. And I hope youll agree: Pervasive homophobia hasnt done any favors for Mr. McInerny, either.

    Thanks for the exchange,
    - BKT

    Posted by: Brandon K. Thorp | Oct 24, 2011 10:21:09 AM


  19. "students’ rights to express sexual orientation -- boys, for example, are legally allowed to wear skirts just as girls can wear pants" This is a horrific and false statement. Gay people are not more likely to have gender issues than heterosexuals. This is a false and homophobic 1950's stereotype. The author is confusing two demographic characteristics - gender identity and sexual orientation. Gay men do NOT want to wear women's clothing; gay men are not less masculine than heterosexuals. Only James Dobson and anti-gay hate groups believe that.

    Posted by: DB | Oct 24, 2011 5:55:01 PM


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