I strongly recommend that parents and educators read the Newsweek cover story “Young, Gay and Murdered.” It is a riveting, tragic, and gut-wrenching story about the murder of a 15-year-old gay student by his 14-year-old classmate at Oxnard, California’s E. O. Green Junior High School last winter. The student, Lawrence (“Larry”) King, was shot in the presence of a teacher and other students.
Central to the story is the crucial fact that Larry had recently come out at school and was killed by a homophobic classmate who had been harassing him. The school simply didn’t know how to handle the situation before it literally blew up in its face and resulted in Larry’s death.
What happened to Larry could happen again in any junior high school in the country—sooner rather than later. But denial is a comfortable state for many school administrators, board members, teachers and parents.
Recently, I told the head of a school for young female dancers about the work one of its alumni has done for college students with eating disorders. “Oh,” she told me, “we don’t have any problems like that in this school.” No problems like that? I asked myself, thinking of all the pressures on dancers to be pencil thin. In the same vein, I can hear middle-school principals vehemently denying that they have students as young as ten who proclaim that they are gay and then are harassed—and even assaulted—by classmates. Think again, I’d say.
Parents of middle schoolers need to talk with their kids about sexual orientation much earlier than they ever thought possible. They need to talk about the horror of hate crimes. An equal burden falls on the entire educational establishment—from the commissioners of education and state board members to superintendents, principals, school board members, teachers, staff, parents and students in middle and high schools. They must talk openly and frequently about sexual orientation and the policies needed to protect all students.
An Oxnard school board member best sums up the steps we need to take to ensure that horrible school tragedies like this one never repeat themselves: “This has got to be discussed more,” said the 48-year veteran member.
Discussed and discussed and discussed by everyone who is concerned with strengthening public education. Educators also need more training on these issues, and they can look no further than Answer’s outstanding workshops, including “That’s So Gay! Homophobia and Harassment Prevention in Elementary School” and “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues: You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers.”