Larry King was murdered three years ago by classmate Brandon McInerney; shot in the back of the head in class. King was a feminine, openly gay boy, and his murder was obviously motivated by his appearance and sexuality. It was the first time I remember the media really covering gay bullying on a national scale and I even wrote about his murder in college, analyzing how the news reported what happened – they had a nasty tendency to focus on what he was wearing (some feminine clothing) and how much he was “flaunting” his identity.
Today his trial is in full swing and apparently the defense is going with the old tried and true “gay panic defense” – with a slight twist. The defense claims that McInerney was unable “to deal with the humiliation of having an openly gay boy flirt with him at school.” and “that King was permitted to flaunt his sexuality.” That this the argument used is heartbreaking to me because it shows how slowly we are moving forward as a society. The jury is obviously supposed to find this persuasive, that King was somehow sexually harassing McInerney, and be swayed by the awfulness of having to be in the presence of a real live feminine gay boy who might flirt with you.
The irrational fear many straight men exhibit, that a gay man might find them attractive and/or flirt with them, is further propped up by this type of argument. This encourages men and boys everywhere to see their bigotry as a reasonable response to the “threat” of attention from gay men (and gender non-conforming people). This same type of fear has also been used repeatedly to justify the murder of countless trans women, including Angie Zapata, Sanesha Stewart, Dana A. “Chanel” Larkin, and Gwen Araujo (there is a list on Wikipedia of trans people who have been murdered). Their murderers frequently alleged that they were surprised to find out that their date was a trans woman and murdered them in a fit of horror (one assumes over the fact that they could have been attracted to a woman who was not born biologically female – making them less of a man somehow).
This defense doesn’t belong in a court room, in a newspaper, or anywhere else for that matter. “I killed someone because my sense of masculinity was threatened” is not an argument that should carry any weight with a jury, but clearly there is still a chance that it does given the frequency it is employed (both in and out of the courtroom).
That is the true horror.
As I continue to follow this case I hope to find that this defense doesn’t work – that the jury is not so prejudiced – but I have my doubts. I’ve heard too many men express similar sentiments about the supposed threat of a gay man’s attention.