I hadn't watched the ABC news program 20/20 in years. Last Friday, however, I decided to tune in to watch a segment on bullying. What I saw angered me almost immediately. By all accounts, 15-year-old Larry King and 14-year-old Brandon McInerney had a contentious relationship. Larry liked to wear clothes and shoes that are marketed to girls. Brandon didn't like it. He also didn't like that Larry was gay and was rumored to have had a crush on him. In fact, Larry had reportedly asked Brandon to be his Valentine. Humiliated and disgusted, Brandon brought a .22 caliber gun to school and fatally shot Larry in the back of the head two days before Valentine's Day.
Several people were interviewed for the segment, but it was Averi Laskey's words that stuck with me. Averi, Larry King's best friend, recounted how fellow students beat Larry up and taunted him. She said, "They tried to take his humanity away." Averi articulated a simple yet profound principle: every human being has the right to be who they are. Averi understood what so many of us fail to grasp. She understood that Larry didn't harm anyone by expressing outwardly who he was internally. She understood it, and she affirmed his right to be.
As a Christian minister, part of my responsibility is to support what is life-affirming. Accordingly, it is also my responsibility to confront or challenge anything that negates a person's right to fully be who they are. It doesn't matter to me that Larry wore clothes that most boys don't wear. It doesn't matter to me that Larry had a crush on a boy. What matters to me is that Larry was bullied and eventually killed because someone else had a different opinion that was sanctioned by lots of other people, societal norms and our nation's institutions. I am saddened and angered because his life ended so violently and so unnecessarily.
I am also saddened and angered because it seems like LGBT people carry a disproportionate amount of the sadness and anger when deaths like Larry's become public. It makes sense, of course, for LGBT people to be sad and angry. After all, our lives are routinely presented as the sacrificial offering on the altars of gender oppression and heterosexism. Many of us, like Larry, are asked or sometimes forced to live in bodies or wear clothes that betray our inner identities. Many of us, like Larry, are asked or sometimes forced to keep our crushes secret in order to make other people comfortable, keep our jobs or not be killed. Our sadness and righteous anger are fitting. And it is disproportionate. Given that LGBT people are outnumbered in the population, I wonder why more straight people aren't angry. I wonder why more people who are gender-conforming don't lend their voices and their power to create change. Where are our youth's allies?
I do not believe that straight and gender-conforming people are any less caring or are any less concerned about our youth. I do not believe that my fellow Christian ministers who are straight and gender-conforming are any less committed to proclaiming how wonderfully we are made in God's image. Yet there is too little said and done to save the lives of LGBT youth. While percentages and hard numbers of how many have been killed or have committed suicide are important, I don't need to cite them here. Only one number matters to me. One death is too many. What's too many for you?