It is has been three years since Brandon McInerney took a handgun to school and shot his classmate Lawrence King in Oxnard, California and the resulting trial is now underway. Predictably, the defense is attempting to shift most of the blame to King himself, claiming that McInerney was driven to kill by King’s taunting and flirtatious behavior.
On the one hand we have allegations that King was sexually harassing his male classmates in ways that crossed boundaries and should have been addressed immediately. But on the other, every time these issues are discussed, they are conflated with his choice of dress and his wearing of makeup, as if his gender presentation was inseparable from his alleged questionable behavior. Former teachers characterize his gender presentation as being ostentatious and disruptive—he “paraded” down the hallway in clothing he felt appropriately gendered in, his education plan recommended he not draw “special attention” to himself. Administrators claim they were walking a tightrope, trying not to infringe on King’s civil rights and attempting to keep the peace.
I find myself baffled at this, and can only see it as a symptom of an inability to extricate acceptance of a person’s sexuality from a condemnation of their social-sexual behavior. It would have been perfectly fine to address King’s behavior while making it clear that he still had space to explore his own identity and gender. A part of me is skeptical of the extent of King’s alleged harassment—having been a young gay man in middle school, I know how quick boys that age are to attribute any level of interaction as evidence that another boy is interested in them or has a crush on them. King is also not here to defend himself and thus cannot rebut these accusations made by his former classmates and teachers. But the school failed him and his classmates by not investigating the claims at the time they were made. This tragedy highlights the need for all students, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to be educated about sexual harassment, and for teachers especially to be trained in how to protect the rights and safety of all students, regardless of their sexual orientation.