2008 Day of Silence honors slain gay student

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At 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 12, 15-year-old Lawrence King was shot twice in the head as he sat at a computer in his school’s computer lab in southern California. The gunman was classmate Brandon McInerney, and the two knew each other well. According to friends of both young men, King, who was openly gay, was frequently tormented by classmates, including McInerney. To get back at him, King — who often wore makeup to school — flirted with McInerney, turning the tables on the homophobic remarks he endured daily.

But as the bullying and flirting escalated, and McInerney became bullied himself, he snapped and shot King. Students and community members say the shooting was motivated by anti-gay bias.

King will be remembered on Friday in Minnesota and around the country during the Day of Silence, a youth movement created to draw attention to bullying and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students — and those who are harassed because they are perceived to be LGBT.

The Day of Silence debuted in 1996. Since then more than half a million students have participated. Students pledge to remain silent for all or part of the school day and carry a card explaining their silence:

Silent for Lawrence King. Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment. This year’s DOS is held in memory of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old student who was killed in school because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.

Minnesota youth organize

More than 70 Minnesota schools will be participating this year. To complement the Day of Silence, District 202, an LGBT youth center in Minneapolis, will be hosting a Night of Noise, which will feature a youth theater troupe and an open mic night for students to express their reactions.

Organizer Jeffry Lusiak of Outward Spiral Theatre Company says, “This intergenerational event is a chance for both those who have participated in the Day of Silence and those who have not, to come together and break the silence,” he said. “The silence that has been forced on queer culture through hate, intolerance, and discrimination.”

“Led by the determination, power, and inspiration of our youth, the Night of Noise is a chance for our community to come together, to use our voices against the hate and violence we face everyday,” he said.

Sheila Moriarty, a student at Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis, penned a column about her feelings regarding the Day of Silence, and her reaction to the shooting of King.

“It reminds me that there should be zero tolerance for hate in schools,” she wrote. “Kids should not be persecuted because of their race, religion, ethnicity or for their sexuality. Adults in schools need to provide the modeling for zero tolerance. It’s important for teachers to talk about diversity so that kids can feel safe to be themselves, and so kids who are threatened by that have an opportunity to process those feelings.”

Another Patrick Henry student, Natasha, shared her reactions. “Thinking about Lawrence King brings disgust to my emotions. Everyone has a right to be who they want to be. Why should someone be forced to be a certain way just because that’s how others think they should be.”

In a symbolic move to support these students, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., introduced a resolution in support of the Day of Silence. Minnesota’s Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL, is a cosponsor.

Religious right launches boycott

Prominent religious right organizations have called for a boycott of the Day of Silence. Minnesota’s own Minnesota Family Council is supporting the boycott and is opposed to the Day of Silence.

“DOS is pure, unadulterated propaganda and, based on the medical science, amounts to nothing short of educational malpractice,” writes Matt Barber with the Concerned Women for America. “With liberal school officials in tow, these militant homosexual activists are brazenly circumventing and abusing parental authority to further this dangerous political agenda. DOS is also a slap in the face to the many students with traditional moral values.”

Barber continues, “Kids are additionally taught that Biblical truth, which holds that human sexuality is a gift from God shared between husband and wife within the bonds of marriage, is ‘homophobic,’ ‘hateful’ and ‘discriminatory.'”

Even some Minnesota Republicans are raising the issue. The Carver County GOP has taken issue with the Day of Silence activities planned for Friday in Chaska schools.

Remembering Lawrence King

The message of the Day of Silence is to stop bullying and harassment, which in some cases, and clearly in King’s case, can lead to deadly consequences. The L.A. Times interviewed students from King’s class about the harassment he faced and the reaction from teachers. Clearly, more work needs to be done to educate students and teachers on how to prevent anti-LGBT bullying. According to the Times:

“They used to bug him a lot, pick on him — ‘Hey you, gay kid … want to wear lipstick?'” Vanessa Ramirez, 15, said of Larry’s belittlers. “He’d start crying. … He didn’t want to tell the teachers because they’d start picking on him more.”

But 13-year-old Mark Reyes said Larry did go to teachers for help. “You’d hear, ‘Faggot! Hey, faggot!’ ” Reyes said. “That was happening in every class. A lot of teachers knew stuff was going on. … I guess they just didn’t want to be involved.”

Bullying and harassment is not targeted only at LGBT students. Many students face daily torment by their peers for a variety of reasons. But the initiative taken by the LGBT community to draw awareness to harassment and bullying should be a starting point to build upon so that all students feel safe in school.

That would be a fitting memorial for Lawrence King.