Jason Tseng

Lawrence King's Memory Shat Upon By CA Judge

Filed By Jason Tseng | May 14, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: blame the victim, California, Casa Pacifica, law, lawrence king

News comes out of California that a Ventura County Judge ruled that the parents of Lawrence King,Lawrence King.png the young boy who was shot twice in the head by his homophobic classmate early last year, can sue his foster home, Casa Pacifica, for negligence. His parents and the judge believe that there is just cause that the foster home counseling and allowing King to express his sexuality and gender identity via make-up and high heel shoes endangered the child and led to his death.

I am so utterly stunned that I am too shocked to be outraged. Yes... Lawrence King was shot multiple times because of something he did. That is essentially what the judge has ruled.

Bull. Shit.

I find it very unfortunate that King's parents want to turn their grief over their son's death into an attack on possibly some of the few people in Lawrence's life that made his life livable. Counseling Lawrence to learn how the express his sexuality and gender identity in a safe and positive way at a young age is no more dangerous than teaching a girl to study science, or an immigrant child to be proud of and share his cultural heritage. These identities are not inherently dangerous... what is dangerous is the savage way these identities of difference are policed by the mainstream culture.

To argue that teaching Lawrence to be himself is to also bring the threat of violence to the child is to say that Lawrence's self is the one that is dangerous. It is an implicit condoning of the hate-filled murder and condemnation of all queer and gender non-conforming people, children included.

But we have heard this same argument before: "If she didn't want to get raped, why did she wear that short skirt?" "What was she doing on the corner at 3am, anyway?" "He should have known better than to walk in that part of town."

These arguments not only deflect the blame on the rightful party, but place the responsibility of ensuring their safety via non-offensive existence on non-straight, non-white, and non-male persons.

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I hope it is appealed. And the judge's name should be put under a spotlight, so that people know who to not retain.

Anthony in Nashville | May 14, 2009 10:25 AM

From the start it seemed like this "family" was looking for a pay day off of King's death. Pitiful.

I completely agree. They didn't seem to love their child from the beginning or he wouldn't have been sent to a foster home. Perhaps if they'd been better parents their child would be alive? I think they're putting the blame on the wrong folks - while hoping to make a few bucks on it too. Bah.

I was about to say this same thing - you beat me to it Bil!

CBrachyrhynchos | May 14, 2009 10:30 AM

Oh shit! My personal opinion is that this is one of the most dangerous legal cases for GLBT people right now. If schools and gay rights organizations can face legal liability for the violence experienced by their members, it potentially closes the door for them in risk-adverse school systems.

Not to mention that this case is just hatred of feminine men wrapped up in a legal package.

Angela Brightfeather | May 14, 2009 11:08 AM

How totally sad. I am shocked and dismayed for younger Trans people.

This has the potential of harming so many young people that it is a disaster.

Judgements like this one drive Transgender people back into the closet and rule their young lives through fear. It is so sad and the more I think about it the sadder I become. To think that tis judge gave any thought to this decision at all is granting him far more grace than he comes close to deserving.

I would be very interested at the opinions of anyone blogging who also might be connected or work with Trans youth groups and especially the reaction of parents of Trans children. I would think that PFLAG would jump all over this one with big hobnailed boots. They are the ones who have the largest stake in this stupid decision.

I'm sorry, but how can the parents sue anyone if the state had to take Lawrence King away from them?

Ventura County decided that Casa Pacifica could do a better of job of parenting Lawrence King than his adoptive parents. Under Pacifica's care and discretion the boy is killed. Apparently they didn't teach him how to express his gender and sexuality in a safe and positive environment.

The boy needed parents. Parents set boundaries. Most 15 year olds don't like boundaries. But then again most 15 year olds live be 16.

Are you seriously suggesting that the solution to violence against queer people in schools is not to have the schools crack down on violent offenders but instead to crack down on visible queers?

And if you're talking about parental decisions to provide for the most possible safety, you should know that more queer and trans youth commit suicide than are murdered. Even if it's just a numbers game, the numbers fall on the side of encouraging expression as suicide prevention rather than discouraging expression as homocide prevention.

I'm suggesting that since the public schools are inacapable of preventing violence against the children in their charge that maybe the public schools are not the place for children to be testing the waters with regard to their sexuality.

I'm also suggesting that an agency empowered by the county to serve as a child's guardian/parent act like a parent and teach children surival skills.

Maybe Casa Pacifica did everything they could have done to prepare Lawrence for the realities of life. That is a fact for a jury to decide.

I think the importance is figuring out why schools are incapable of protecting the children in their care. The school was not safe for queer/trans children, and I could see the case being made that they did not do enough to prevent harasment. But the argument being made is that they should join in the harassment, using punishments, guilt trips, and fear tactics to manipulate queer/trans students into not being visible. The truth is that no matter how severely anti-queer/trans a school is, there will still be queer/trans students, and they will still be targeted for violence.

I'm sure many folks can attest to conservative schools which discouraged them from expressing themselves and still got beat up. I'm sure many folks can attest to being closeted, but someone found out nonetheless. Or being closeted but bullies still sense something and latch onto you.

The closet is not adaquate protection from violence. The way to stop that violence is to create a space where it is not allowed -- not a space where the school tries to beat the bullies to the punch so that their abuse is only emotional and not physical.

I'd argue that all people, including youth, have the right to make their own decisions around self-expression. Personally, I'd rather live a life where I was happy with myself and someone killed me for it than a life where I could barely live with myself. Even if you accept that being out raises your risk, it's a risk that youth should be allowed to take if they want.

The worst part, though, is the blame the victim mentality. If a young girl was wearing makeup and got raped and killed, would you advocate sueing the school/foster system for allowing her to wear makeup and thereby displaying her femaleness? If young person of color was killed by the KKK, would you sue the school/foster system for allowing them to participate in a student union for people of color and thereby displaying their race? If a rich kid carried a laptop and got killed in a mugging, would you sue the school/foster system for allowing the rich kid bring a computer to school and thereby display their wealth?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 16, 2009 10:00 AM

Tobi, I feel your anger and it is justified, but even in the ancient times of my grade school and Junior high years kids who did not conform were singled out. I was singled out for being the tallest, or worst dressed, or most bookish. When you have 25-35 kids in a classroom the staff is so completely outnumbered to prevent individual harassment of students it is laughable to suggest that they are culpable. Only through education of acceptance of uniqueness beginning early, and repeated often, will there be a chance of kids not sensitizing gender role expectations, or tallest, worst at sports, or nerdy etc.

Presently I am in utter shock that my old home town of Chicago has a huge senseless murder rate of school children. All kids are a precious resource.

I have to say that the past year has underwhelmed me about California. All that I can say is that I am glad that I live in Mass even if the weather sucks. We have some difficulties but California seems to have some systemic defects.

rrsmithjr | May 14, 2009 12:28 PM

Clearly the parents are going after the wrong people.

The constant bombardment of hate of Gays from the likes of James Dobson "Focus on the Family" and the others is the root cause. The ones telling people it's ok to kill Gays should be sued.

Not people saying it's ok to be yourself and not lie about who your are.

This case is a perfect example of how screwed up things have become in this country. We have a murdered child who was murdered for being transgender, parents that were unfit enough to have their kid in foster care, then crass enough to sue to foster home for allowing their kid to be who they are, and a judge who wears a white sheet under his robe (as evidenced by his decision). My question is this: a murder has been committed, and what will be done to punish the perpetrator?

CBrachyrhynchos | May 14, 2009 2:56 PM

Worse, it looks like the criminal case is going to involve something akin to a "gay panic" defense that King's expression in the school was so painfully to McInerney's tender sensibilities that he had no choice but to shot King in the back of the head a day after bragging about his intentions.

Recently I had to explain why Sasha Baron Cohen's Bruno struck a raw nerve. I find it hard to laugh an actor provoking prejudice by pretending to be a swishy gay man when our rights are on trial.

I have to agree with Anthony - the parents were talking about this not long after King's death. There's a strong chance that they're just looking for a chunk of change. Then again, they also had a problem with King's gender expression too, so....

CB's right - this sets a terrible precedent for schools right now. Instead of teaching the right lesson - work to decrease the chance that these situations occur by addressing constant bullying (since King was bullied for a long period before this happened), they'll take the easy way out and enforce dress codes harshly and punish kids who express themselves a little more and keep queer groups out of schools.

Criminal Judge. Stupid parents. Who are the attorneys involved. Something smells.

christophe | May 14, 2009 3:25 PM

Its the parents of that little bigot who shot him that ought to be sued since they brought up their child in an atmosphere of hate and intolerance.

Angela Brightfeather | May 14, 2009 3:59 PM

Supporting schools and saying that they should clamp down on gender expressive youths or that they should wait to express theselves when it safer for them is only the tip of the problem and that solution doesn't even address the day to day bullying and inappropriate treatment of Trans youths.

Example: When many schools try to control children during lunchtime in the cafeteria and curb the food fights, they force children to sit boy/girl/boy/girl and so on as a control measure.

Why don't you tell me where the Trans youth is supposed to sit? Is it where the teacher tells him or her to based upon what he or she has in his or her pants? Or is a male to female student who expresses her gender supposed to sit between two boys and be judged as a trouble maker by the teacher and reported to the principal who sends the child home on suspension?

Every day choices regarding how a person fits in at school are subjected to gender biased treatments that place Trans youth in harms way, when simply trying to get an education like everyone else.

Clamping down? How about clamping down on the rules that catagorize children based on gender stereotypes that no longer apply in a civil society that has Transgender people in it?

It's real easy for a gay or lesbian to say follow such rules and live in less fear because you can blend in better. But Trans youth are like people of color who lived 40 years ago and tried to get an education in white public schools. They are singled out for intolerance and discrimination immediately, just like the black children who walked into the white schools for the first time under desegragation laws, with the exception that they don't have the National Guard there to protect them at the entrance or Governor Wallace blocking the doors. But it is no less hard today for Trans children to cope because they wear what they are on theri sleeve and the way their hair looks or the fingernail polish that they love to wear.

Another thing that seems to be forgotten is the parents of these children. How would you as a parent feel about sending your child who you love dearly to school every day, knowing that their life could be snuffed out in any moment and you could be getting a call from the Sheriff or the School Principal telling you there "has been an unfortunate accident" and your child is no longer alive. How much courage and trust does it take for a parent to offer up the dearest thing in their life for a society and educational environment that is sworn to protect your child in their care, but does not even come close?
What if you are the parent of a Trans child that has no choice in the matter? You send your child to be murdered and abused in school, or you have social services at your door to take your child away if you try to protect them by keeping them at home. Some choice, and some way to live!!!!

Trans children know they are different almost from the time they can walk in most cases and they start expressing that nature of themselves before they can even spell the word "sex" or know what it means. GLB people can hold back at least until puberty and it becomes and issue, but Trans children are expressing themselves at 5 years old in kindergarden. Lets see schools make some rules for that kind of advanced timeline and recognize the danger they place Trans children in if they don't make an effort to protect them while they are trying to be politicially correct at the same time. And don't think that it is that hard because it isn't. All that schools have to do is to teach children about diversity, accceptance and how to value the lives of their classmates. and if they do that for Trans children who are expressing at 5, don't you think it might be better, especially for GLB children who start to have issues about their sexuality at 12?

"I'm suggesting that since the public schools are inacapable of preventing violence against the children in their charge that maybe the public schools are not the place for children to be testing the waters with regard to their sexuality."

The only thing that schools are incapable of doing is to stop discriminating, because they themselves are a poor example of how not to discriminate against Trans youth. And please, at least in this case, lets separate the sexuality thingy from the gender thingy. It's not necessarily the same at all at 5 or 6 years old.

"I'm also suggesting that an agency empowered by the county to serve as a child's guardian/parent act like a parent and teach children surival skills."

Do you mean like bringing a bozooka to school with them if the other kid had a 9 MM Glock? Or do you just prefer that they hold of and be told by their parents that at 12 years old when they have to start making decisions about hormones and possibly delaying the effects of puberty, that they can finally start to express their gender, just like the gay and lesbian children who are starting to hold hands in the halls?

Detante, detante please. No weapons in any school. Survival in a school system should not be based on who brings the biggest weapon or who can bury what they are the best back in the closet at home, or on waiting until it is safer to express yourself. Do you know how hard it is for a Trans child to be told by their parents that they can't do someting that comes as naturally as breathing to them, because they might get beat up or even killed if they do? Is it any wonder why Trans children have higher rates of suicide? Even their parents are forced not to accept them for who they are and are made to scold them or treat the differently than their brothers or sisters "for their own good".

I made it through that stage of my life without taking my own life, but it took a toll. My hatred for school manifested itself in rebellous acts and lower grades, because if everyone stopped me from living the way I wanted to, I damned well wasn't going to do the things they wanted me to do. I knew at 7 that if I got staight A+'s in school and was perfect in every way, people would still stop me from being who I wanted to be.

When any child is placed in that situation and has to live like that, it's called abuse and the choices are either fight it and live in misery, or die and end the pain. That's the choice that thousands of Trans children are being given in schools and homes every day.

Tobi and Angela,

I have not said anything about the school system telling children how to appear. I simply noted that the public schools do not exhibit the ability to protect children from harassment or violence.

I am reacting only to the lawsuit. The child was removed from his parents and placed under the protection of a agency charged with acting as his parent. Lawrence was killed while in Pacifica's care.

Given that King had access to an outlet where he might explore his sexuality the wisdom of allegedly counseling the boy to dress and act flamboyantly at school is open to question. It is rightly a question to be placed in front of a jury.

BTW and for the record, I'm not saying that gay, lesbian, or trans kids *should* have to hide. Until schools are safe, they should have alternative venues for exploration. They should also have adults in their lives that help them navigate safely.

If I was the foster parent to a gay, lesbian, or trans 15 y.o. I'd tell him or her to fly under the radar at school, and then find or create as many safe environments for them as I could - the first of which being the home.

Marja Erwin | May 14, 2009 8:03 PM

We don't know whether this was a boy. We don't know whether s/he was expressing her sexuality or something completely different. Because s/he is dead and never got the chance to tell us.

I was one of the many trans children who buried ourselves deep down. Some of my brothers and sisters had trouble getting medical care because they didn't present early enough or flamboyantly enough. We often felt depression because we buried ourselves, and we *still* faced beatings *despite* burying ourselves.

A lot of trans folks are *dead* because of the stress and the futility of burying ourselves.

"We do not know..." Who, pray tell is "we"?

It takes a lot of guts to use a little dead boy as an ideological pawn. In the mean time, his mother is looking for answers.

Every responsible gay activist counsels young people to not come out unless they can do it safely - emotionally, physically, or financially. It seems like trans/queer activists are willing to let their young walk through an armed minefield in order to maintain ideological purity.

Say what you will, but I stand behind a Mom who is trying to find out what happened to her son.

Marja Erwin | May 15, 2009 12:42 AM

We, as in the people here. Lawrence King is the only person who knew whether s/he was a boy, a girl, both, or neither.

Gay identities are far more prominent in this culture than trans identities, and its not exactly unheard-of for people to latch onto gay or lesbian identities, but later assert a trans identity.

It's possible that s/he was gay.

It's possible that s/he was trans one or another way.

It's possible that s/he was neither.

However, requiring schools to shut down people's self-expression is going to hurt trans students. As in traumatize, and sometimes kill.

CBrachyrhynchos | May 15, 2009 10:02 AM

Well, one big problem is that the closet isn't exactly a safe place either. And as we've seen over the last six months, even being heterosexual isn't a shield from anti-gay harassment. It is entirely possible that King was harassed well before he came out.

Still though, the prospect of gay rights groups facing legal liability should a member experience violence on the basis of his or her sexual orientation should be cause for great concern.

I am so utterly stunned that I am too shocked to be outraged. Yes... Lawrence King was shot multiple times because of something he did. That is essentially what the judge has ruled.

That is not in any way what the judge ruled. The judge ruled that what the plaintiffs allege is plausible enough to proceed, which is a pretty low standard.

This judge is just doing his duty. Have you read the court papers? I'm sure the legal reasoning is much more complex than the few sentences in the newspaper article linked to. For all we know, the foster agency was aware of direct threats against Larry, did not report them to school officials or the police and then, on top of it, encouraged Larry to dress or act in a way that they knew would provoke his attackers. That would make them pretty damn negligent in my book. Which has nothing to do with Larry being to blame... but could have everything to do with the agency not protecting him.

That's totally hypothetical. I suspect, as most of us do, that this case will turn out to be BS. But don't attack a judge with a bunch of misleading histrionics that have nothing to do with what he actually did. The judiciary is getting enough crazy attacks from anti-LGBT folks. They don't need them from us too.

I'd say this is a sadly misdirected lawsuit. If there were to be a lawsuit at all, it would make sense to direct it towards either:

1. The parents of the shooter. Was the gun theirs? How did their son manage to bring a loaded weapon to school?

2. The school. It is never acceptable to allow bullying to continue. And we often find that schools know what's going on and choose not to step in. If an adult doesn't have the guts to tell a student, "It is inappropriate for you to use terms like _____/to push your classmate, etc." then they have no business being in a classroom.

Finally, it makes my blood boil that the foster home is being attacked. Foster parents have a tough job- often taking in the most damaged, scared children that no one else will touch with a 10-foot pole. To attempt to "punish" them for caring about Lawrence when no one else did and for encouraging him to feel ok about who he was is despicable.

rikki lynn mordhorst | May 15, 2009 7:01 PM

That is outrageous and a terrible thing for a judge to rule.

The one place where there should be justice, there is none...

here in wash state child protective services have taken children from their mother because her partner is transgendered... the said the children are in an unhealthy environment living in a home where someone suffered from gender identity confusion.

what a shame for these foster parents who gave him love...

casa pacifica cannot tell us youth who we should & should not be. casa is a place where we can express ourselfs & not be judged.. most of us get kicked out of foster homes because of the person we our. may larry king rest in peace