Tag Archives: larry king

When schools get things dead wrong

“Valentine Road,” a heartbreaking and disturbing documentary screened at the Milwaukee Film Fest, explores eighth-grader Brandon McInerney’s 2008 slaying of fellow classmate Letisha King at EO Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif.

Still exploring her sexuality and her gender at the age of 14, Letisha hadn’t openly identified as transgender at the time of her death. The filmmaker, interviewees and the media continue to refer to her as Larry King and use male pronouns, but I am going to refer to her as she requested in her last days.

First-time director Marta Cunningham did more than recount the circumstances surrounding King’s murder. She explored the histories of both kids, their family situations and the myriad ways in which the school district  mismanaged nearly everything it possibly could.

King was placed in an “independent educational program” that sought to end her “deviant behavior” in accessorizing her school uniform with make-up and jewelry. Immediately following the shooting, King’s classmates were ushered into a separate classroom and forced to watch “Jaws” while police conducted their investigation. The one teacher who supported King’s gender expression was terminated and blamed for her death.

This screening also provided the opportunity to engage as a community during a discussion panel following the film. Loree Cook-Daniels and michael munson from FORGE, Tina Owen from the Alliance School and Syd Robinson from the ACLU participated in the panel, moderated by Mitch Teich from WUWM’s Lake Effect. It was a thoughtful community dialogue sponsored by Cream City Foundation and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. Panelists and attendees struggled to articulate how the director’s portrayal of both King and McInerney as victims of a broken system and childhood trauma affected them.

It was a difficult process to witness the deconstruction of both victim and perpetrator. Listening to jurors in McInerney’s first trial express their belief that King’s murder was NOT a hate crime was certainly one of the most unsettling experiences. Though it is difficult to understand how someone would not view the murder of a youth simply because of gender expression and sexual orientation as a hate crime, it is a conversation that I’m sure is not uncommon.

Nor is it unique to Oxnard. Last week, Jason Morgan, a UW-Madison teaching assistant, wrote an open letter to the history department following its mandatory diversity training that explored racism and supporting transgender students.

Morgan wrote, “It is most certainly not my job, though, to cheer along anyone, student or otherwise, in their psychological confusion. I am not in graduate school to learn how to encourage poor souls in their sexual experimentation.… Everyone is welcome in my classroom, but, whether directly or indirectly, I will not implicate myself in my students’ fetishes, whatever those might be. What they do on their own time is their business; I will not be a party to it.” 

Morgan’s frustration with the trainings, which he refers to as “intellectual tyranny” and his characterization of transgender and genderqueer students’ identity as a “fetish,” demonstrate exactly why these diversity trainings are so critically important. As a UW-Madison alum, I am exceedingly proud of my alma mater.

Perhaps if King and McInerney’s teachers were taught the difference between a fetish and the expression of gender identity – if they were given the tools and support to create a truly inclusive school – we would have one less tragedy to mourn.

Unpacking the teen shooting documented in ‘Valentine Road’

Oxnard, Calif., is a town that “hardly anyone knows (about) unless they’ve heard about the story,” says one resident in the documentary “Valentine Road.”

On Feb. 12, 2008, openly transgender eighth-grade student Larry King was shot and killed by classmate Brandon McInerney in a classroom at Oxnard’s E.O. Green Junior High School. “Valentine Road” explores the events of the day, as well as those leading up to the killing and its aftermath.

Surrounding this story of the premeditated killing of a 15-year-old are revelations of homophobia, white supremacy, drug addiction and a system that failed two boys. Earlier this month, I spoke with “Valentine Road” director Marta Cunningham and producer Sasha Alpert.

Gregg Shapiro: When did you first hear about the killing of Larry King?

Marta Cunningham: I read (about it in) an article, about five months after. I was horrified that this event happened, that I had not heard about it and that it wasn’t still being talked about on the news. I immediately started doing as much research as I could and found that a lot of the media coverage was victim-blaming, inaccurate. I was really upset by that. 

Is that what drew you to the story?

MC: Really what I wanted to do was show the complexities and not just focus on the incident. That was just too black-and-white of a story for me. What really interested me the most (were) the complexities about both of the boys. What was similar, not just what was different.

“Valentine Road” shines a light on many issues. A very telling moment in the film occurs when a couple of students being interviewed seem unsurprised that a shooting occurred, much less that it involved Larry. 

Sasha Alpert: They live without a lot of adult supervision. There was no one intervening in this tense situation at the school. Neither of these kids had stable home situations, so they both lacked parents to guide them through a very difficult adolescence. Oxnard is a divided, mostly agricultural migrant labor community, and there is violence there. There is certainly gang activity and white supremacist activity there.

MC: But I think it’s fair to say that kids grow up in a different world than we did. School shootings are reported all the time. The problem is that we’ve accepted it. I don’t think it matters what neighborhood you’re in. They were so quick to be comfortable with the shooting, because this is just part of our culture now. I think it’s horrific.

“Valentine Road” is full of surprises, including the revelation that Brandon was a “budding white supremacist” and that some jurors saw the victim as responsible for his own murder. Some of the jurors wore “Free Brandon” bracelets when they were being interviewed on ABC at the time of the retrial. Were you surprised?

MC: I think by that time nothing really surprised me. I was pretty jaded by that point in the journey. No, I wasn’t shocked, because I had witnessed, by this time, so much homophobia. What was shocking to me was that they got to wear them (the bracelets) in the courtroom. 

“Valentine Road” shows how powerful the effects of the murder were – from those touched by it on a local level to a national level, including Ellen DeGeneres. Is that a comment on changing attitudes toward the LGBT community?

SA: Attitudes have been changing over the course of the time we were making the film. Lots and lots of changes are happening, and it’s a really exciting time. I think kids that are adolescents now are going to live in a very different world than we live in, in that area. We just watched gay marriage being legalized in California. 

Marta, you make use of animation when it comes to the depiction of Larry’s transgender alter-ego.

MC: I wanted to create a lightness of touch. That’s what Larry seemed to have. I wanted to keep that childhood notion alive, that fantasy aspect alive. I talked to a lot of trans men and women who talked about depictions that they had when they were younger. Sometimes they had to create alter egos to survive the amount of bullying and harassment that they went through. Last night, at the New York screening, there was a young man who came up to me and started crying. He said he was so happy that I had done the animation, because he was also like that as a child. He had so many different alter-egos.

“Valentine Road” has a Valentine’s theme – beginning with Larry and Brandon’s Valentine’s Day interaction. The entrance to the cemetery where Larry is buried is on Valentine Road, and Larry’s heart was donated to a little girl on V-Day. Has this had any effect on how you feel about the occasion?

MC: I never thought about it. I really try to keep my private life separate from anything that I do work-wise. I’m very good at compartmentalizing. I always think about Larry on Feb. 12, the day he was shot.

On screen

As part of the Milwaukee Film Festival, “Valentine Road” plays at 2 p.m. on Sept. 27 at the Fox Bay Cinema; 2 p.m. on Sept. 29 at the Oriental Theatre and at 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 1 at Fox Bay Cinema. Wisconsin Gazette is a community partner in the presentation.

Teen to be sentenced for killing gay classmate

A Southern California teenager faces 21 years in state prison when he’s sentenced today for killing a gay student during a computer lab class three years ago.

In a deal reached with Ventura County, Calif., prosecutors last month, 17-year-old Brandon McInerney agreed to avoid a retrial and plead guilty to second-degree murder, as well as one count each of voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm, the AP reported.

McInerney had just turned 14 when he shot and killed 15-year-old Larry King at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard.

A mistrial was declared in September when jurors couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on the degree of guilty.

The panel took a series of votes, the last one with seven jurors in favor of voluntary manslaughter and five supporting either first-degree or second-degree murder. The trial had been moved from Ventura County to Los Angeles because of pretrial publicity.

Several jurors said after McInerney’s trial that he shouldn’t have been tried as an adult.

Leading up to the February 2008 killing, teachers and students saw a feud growing between King and McInerney, who would shoot King in the head before stunned classmates in a computer lab.

McInerney had reached an emotional breaking point after King made repeated, unwanted sexual advances toward him and other boys, defense lawyers said. In the weeks leading up to the shooting, school administrators allowed King to wear heels and makeup because federal law provides the right of students to express their sexual orientation.

Ventura County Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Frawley said prosecutors agreed to the plea deal because of uncertainty about what might result from a second trial.

Frawley said at the time that prosecutors took into account how much time in jail for McInerney would protect the community.

“The total time in custody for 25 years will do that,” he said.

After serving nearly four years since King’s slaying, with the additional 21 years McInerney will be released just before his 39th birthday.

His murder conviction will be stayed, and the plea deal calls for McInerney to be given the harshest sentence under California law for voluntary manslaughter — 11 years — and use of a firearm — 10 years, Frawley said. McInerney is ineligible for time served or good behavior because he pleaded guilty to murder.

Source: AP

Killer of gay California teen gets 21 years

A teenager from Oxnard, Calif., pleaded guilty today to second-degree murder in the killing of a gay classmate in a deal that will send him to prison for 21 years, The Associated Press is reporting.

The plea deal was reached in the case of 17-year-old Brandon McInerney, who was only 14 when he shot 15-year-old Larry King in the back of the head in front of their classmates in February 2008.

McInerney pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm, said Ventura County Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Frawley. He’s scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 19.

The case had been expected to go to retrial after jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision on the degree of guilt in September, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial. The panel took a series of votes, the last one with seven in favor of voluntary manslaughter and five jurors supporting either first-degree or second-degree murder.

The case drew worldwide attention because prosecutors claimed McInerney killed King at E.O. Green Junior High School in a fit of homophobic rage.  McInerny had said he was offended by King’s effeminate dress and flirtatious behavior.

Prosecutors contended McInerney embraced a white supremacist philosophy that sees homosexuality as an abomination. Defense attorneys claimed he reached an emotional breaking point after King made repeated, unwanted sexual advances.

Prosecutors had previously offered a plea deal that would have sent McInerney to prison for 25 years to life, but his attorneys passed.

McInerney, who already served nearly four years since King’s slaying, will be released just shy of his 39th birthday. He is ineligible for time served or good behavior because he pleaded guilty to murder.

Mistrial declared in case of California teen who killed gay classmate

After the jury was unable to reach a verdict, a mistrial was declared today in the closely watched case of Brandon McInerney, the 17-year-old accused of shooting a gay classmate to death in 2008.

The jury began deliberating on Friday after eight weeks of testimony that included nearly 100 witnesses. Many of the witnesses – students and teachers at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard – testified they had seen tensions rising on campus after 15-year-old Larry King began coming to school dressed in feminine attire.

McInerney, who was 14 at the time, shot King twice in the back of the head in a school computer lab on Feb. 12, 2008. The prosecution contended it was a calculated murder carried out in part because McInerney was exploring white supremacist ideology and didn’t like gay people.

McInerney acknowledged to a defense psychologist that he was upset King had come up to him at school the day before the shooting and said, “What’s up, baby?”

McInerney said he found King’s romantic attention toward him “disgusting” and “humiliating” and that King would have to pay for it. He told a school friend that he was going to bring a gun to school the next day, and he did.

Defense attorneys portrayed McInerney as a bright but abused 14-year-old who snapped after being sexually harassed by King. LGBT rights advocates were outraged over this use of the so-called “gay panic” defense to justify murder.

The facts in the case were unchallenged by the defense, but the jury could not reach an agreement on whether to find McInerney guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter.

The prosecution and defense could reach a plea deal, or the prosecution could pursue a new trial.

“The mistrial declared today is hardly a surprise,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), which advocates for LGBT youth.

“This was always destined to be a case with little resolution and no winners, whatever the verdict,” Bayard said in a statement. “The central facts remain the same: homophobia killed Larry King and destroyed Brandon McInerney’s life, and adults failed both young men because of their own inability to deal forthrightly and compassionately with the multiple challenges they each faced. The jury’s indecision is a sad reflection of our collective inability to find common ground and invest in a better future for all youth and a culture of respect for all.”

Larry King joins NOH8 campaign to support gay marriage

Larry King has posed for a NOH8 photograph and participated in a public service announcement to raise awareness for marriage equality.

Photographer Adam Bouska and partner Jeff Parshley launched the grassroots NoH8 campaign in response to the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which reversed a state Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. The campaign photographs celebrities and everyday folks around the nation with their mouths duct taped and the campaign’s familiar “NOH8” slogan often written on one cheek.

NOH8 released the photo of King in advance of a video campaign asking President Obama to endorse marriage equality. King, who’s been married eight times, has also recorded a pro-marriage equality video. He ended his long-running CNN interview program last December.

The InterContinental Milwaukee is hosting an open photo shoot for the national NOH8 Campaign from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 12. Bouska plans to set up a studio at the hotel to take as many photos as possible in Milwaukee.

“We are honored to have the opportunity to bring this important campaign to the Milwaukee area and hope to help raise a significant amount of money to support NOH8,” says Tim Smith, general manager of the InterContinental Milwaukee. “We’re expecting a huge turnout.”

Nearly two and a half years since its inception, the NOH8 Campaign has grown to over 13,000 faces. The campaign began with portraits of everyday Californians from all walks of life and soon rose to include politicians, military personnel, newlyweds, law enforcement, artists, celebrities, and many more.

The cost for an individual portrait is $40 and for couple/group portraits is $25 per person. Participants are asked to wear white and arrive camera ready. Reservations are not taken. Photos are taken on a first come, first served basis.

Anyone in line by 8 p.m. to be photographed on the evening of the event will be eligible for the shoot.

Witness says alleged killer was upset when gay student called him ‘baby’

Brandon McInerney said he planned to bring a gun to school a day before he shot and killed an openly gay student in a Ventura County junior high school classroom, a friend testified at his murder trial.

The student, identified only as Keith L., took the stand July 7 in the Los Angeles trial. He said McInerney’s face turned red after 15-year-old victim Larry King called him “baby” in a crowded hallway at E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard.

“That’s how he gets when he’s mad,” the friend said. “Both embarrassed and mad.”

Prosecutors have said that King actually said, “I love you, baby.”

After class, the friends met again.

“He told me he was going to bring his gun the next day,” Keith L. said, adding that he did not report the comment because he thought his friend was joking.

On Feb. 12, 2008, McInerney was sitting behind King in computer class when he pulled a .22-caliber handgun and shot him twice in the head.

McInerney, now 17, is charged as an adult with murder and a hate crime. He could face life in prison if convicted. Prosecutors contend he was a white supremacist who shot King, in part, because he was gay.

The defense claims McInerney snapped after King repeatedly propositioned him and should face voluntary manslaughter rather than murder.

Keith, who is black, said his friend never showed any sign of racism. He and others testifying also said that King repeatedly made flirtatious or taunting comments to McInerney.

King had taken to wearing makeup and effeminate clothing and often was insulted, tripped or avoided by other boys, students testified.

Teen accused of killing gay classmate goes on trial

Brandon McInerney was a scrawny 14-year-old from a broken home when he was accused of gunning down a gay classmate in front of stunned students at a Ventura County, Calif., middle school.

Three years later – and six months shy of legal adulthood – McInerney is going on trial on a charge of first-degree murder in the killing of 15-year-old Larry King (pictured). If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

Opening statements are slated for July 5 at a courthouse in the San Fernando Valley, following a change of venue.

Larry’s death has roiled gay-rights advocates and parents in Oxnard, about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles, where the shooting occurred in February 2008. They wondered why school officials hadn’t done more to stop the harassment toward Larry by students, including McInerney. Larry’s family sued the school district, among two dozen defendants, for failing to protect the teen.

The conflict between the two boys, who both had troubled upbringings, didn’t seem out-of-place for teens coping with adolescence. There were taunts, teasing and on at least one occasion, a scuffle between Larry and McInerney, who purportedly tried to get others to beat up Larry.

What made the discord different from routine bullying is how Larry stood up for himself.

The day before the shooting, one of McInerney’s friends told authorities that Larry uttered the words “I love you” as he passed McInerney in a hallway, according to court documents filed by prosecutors.

The friend said McInerney told him he was “going to get a gun and shoot (Larry),” according to court papers. One of Larry’s friends claimed McInerney told her, “Say goodbye to your friend Larry, because you’re never going to see him again.”

The following day, as the boys sat in a computer lab, McInerney drew a .22-caliber gun from his sweatshirt and shot Larry in the back of the head.

McInerney “then stood up as Larry collapsed to the floor, looked around at his astonished classmates and delivered a second coup-de-grace shot into the back of Larry’s head,” prosecutor Maeve Fox wrote in court documents.

White supremacist materials were found in McInerney’s bedroom, including books and drawings of swastikas. McInerney didn’t attend a school field trip to the Museum of Tolerance, the educational arm of the human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center, court records showed.

At a preliminary hearing last year, a police detective testified that Larry’s sexuality was an affront to McInerney’s ideology, and was probably the motive for the crime.

McInerney has pleaded not guilty to murder, lying in wait and a hate crime. Defense lawyer Scott Wippert has not returned calls and e-mails seeking comment. Wippert, however, told the Ventura County Star, that Larry sexually harassed McInerney and the shooting was committed in the heat of the moment.

Jurors will likely hear about the rough upbringings of both teens.

Larry, who told some people he was gay, lived at a center for abused and neglected children in the months before his death. Girls used him as a pawn to clear a table of boys at lunch, according to prosecutors. When Larry asked to sit with them, the boys got up and sometimes called him derogatory names.

McInerney came from an abusive household where his father, William McInerney, was sentenced for battery against his mother in 2000. William McInerney also was accused of shooting her in the elbow several months before his son was born.

He died in March 2009 of blunt-force head trauma at his home. The coroner ruled his death was accidental.

While McInerney will be tried as an adult because of the gravity of the alleged crime, some legal experts said the panel could be more lenient because of his youth.

“One, they recognize the younger you are, the more likely you are to be rehabilitated,” said Tom Lyon, a professor of law and psychology at the University of Southern California. “And two, they see more impulsiveness in their actions.”

Larry’s death has gained some resonance around the nation, where vigils have been held in his memory. Thousands of comments were left on Internet sites dedicated to him in the weeks following the shooting.

Lyon said the tragedy could foster discussion between adults and children about intolerance.

“This kind of case is something students can discuss to deal with prejudices and alleviate them,” he said.

Big names drive New York marriage bill forward

A former president and a current governor, a bad-boy hockey player and a retired talk-show host are driving marriage equality in New York state.

Still, there’s a deficit in the state senate in “yes” votes for same-sex marriage legislation.

While the legislative season is nearing an end in many states, it is heating up in New York state.

On May 10, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched his People First Campaign, a statewide tour to promote his legislative priorities. The governor’s campaign includes capping property taxes, enacting ethics reform and passing a marriage equality bill.

“The clock is ticking, but when the people speak, the politicians will listen,” Cuomo said.

An estimated 58 percent of New York citizens support legalizing same-sex marriage. That majority includes some high-profile people, including former President Bill Clinton.

“Now we should do it again, in New York, with marriage equality. For more than a century, our Statue of Liberty has welcomed all kinds of people from all over the world yearning to be free. In the 21st century, I believe New York’s welcome must include marriage equality.”

Daughter Chelsea Clinton also endorsed the equality legislation, as did New York Ranger Sean Avery, TV personality Larry King and a number of other celebrities.

Chelsea Clinton, in her statement, said, “As someone who got married last year, it was certainly the happiest day of my life to be able to marry my best friend. I fundamentally believe that every New Yorker, every American and everyone should have the same right.”

The statement came out just days before about 1,200 lesser-known New Yorkers organized by Empire State Pride Agenda boarded buses from the Bronx to Utica to lobby in the capital for marriage equality.

While there is momentum for moving the bill, state Sen. Thomas Duane, D-N.Y., recently said there are not enough votes in his chamber. The assembly has passed a marriage equality bill several times, but not the senate.

Also, in the weeks before the session ends in June, the National Organization for Marriage plans to invest $500,000 to block passage of the bill and another $1 million to defeat Democrats who support such legislation.