By Venus Zarris written 07-25-2008
To illustrate that coincidence often comes along as a smack in the face, I was sent a Newsweek article today about the Larry King killing, the same week that I wrote a review of the About Face Youth Theatre’s production of Fast Forward.
The article is entitled ‘Yong, Gay and Murdered.’ Larry King was a 15 year-old boy that was shot to death in his California classroom by a fellow student, apparently because Larry was openly and flamboyantly queer.
Fast Forward is a play that tells the stories of queer kids struggling to find their way in the American education system. “Set against the colorful backdrop of high school, Fast Forward is based on true stories of the ensemble and the greater LGBTQ community, and explores the contemporary realities of identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.”
While Fast Forward focuses more on the lack of relevant and comprehensive sex education, it also poignantly expresses the personal and institutional challenges that queer youth face everyday.
The tragic story of Larry King is far from cut and dry. There are as many angles to approach the situation as there are people affected by the event, both directly and indirectly. Larry was not only flamboyantly queer, dressing in girls clothes and wearing make up, but also he was apparently ‘acting out’ in a less than appropriate manner, regardless of his sexual orientation.
Let me state now that nothing about his behavior warrants his death. And let me also state that the facts of the story are, at this point, mostly speculative. We know that a fellow student shot him in the head while he was sitting in class and we also know that Larry was the ‘talk of the school’ as a result of his ostentatious and sexually audacious behavior.
His story and the story of his killer, Brandon McInerney, is the story of an overtaxed and failed system. Under the best of, and the most “normal” circumstances, educators are not given the resources needed to do their jobs. The job is not to simply teach kids the basic subjects of study, but also to create an environment that is safe and developmentally nurturing for all of their students. If every child were a carbon copy of the other children this would be a daunting task. Given the fact that every child is an individual and comes to class from a unique and mostly unknowable home environment, the task is practically impossible.
Political correctness and provisions for the difficulties of the situation aside, what was happening with Larry in school was beyond the scope of everyone involved.
The bottom line is that we queers are, for all intents and purposes, aliens in a foreign land. And by aliens I mean to say that it is as if we come from a different planet. It is one that closely resembles the earth enough for us to understand the language and the environment but it is also one where the components of our very identities are mysterious and suspect.
It is as if our ‘home planet’ has vanished without a trace. We can’t ‘phone home’ like ET because it is nonexistent, along with any database that might help us or our host planet understand the very nature of who we are. We are flying solo, alone and without the aid of a familial connection to assist us in our journey.
Years ago I had a conversation with a friend about the struggle for human rights and equality for the black community verses the gay community. My friend seemed irritated that the gay community would liken their struggle for civil rights to that of the struggle of the black community.
“You don’t know what it is like. If you want to, you can blend in. But everywhere I go people know that I am black.” he said.
“To ‘blend in’ would be to denounce who I am. To ‘blend in’ would be to comply, at least on some level, with the notion that there is something wrong with me. And even if, as a kid, you went to an all white school and were persecuted for being black, when you went home at the end of the day you went home to a house with other black people. You probably went to a church with other black people and had the option of activities where it was safe to be yourself.
When I left school, where it wasn’t safe to be gay, it was even more dangerous to be gay at home. There was no one there like me to show me that I was valid. I didn’t have a history, oral or written, to go by. I didn’t see anyone in the media who looked like me that was safely out and proud. There was no one giving me examples of how to live. I had to hide everywhere.” I told my friend.
It was as if a light bulb had been turned on in my friend’s head. He had never taken these things into consideration.
Although things have dramatically changed for the better since I was a kid, these changes have been sporadic. Depending on where a child is located there may be little to no improvement at all.
The community has made incredible strides in the past few decades. One might go so far as to call these accomplishments unprecedented and amazing. But the fact of the matter remains that we are all still formulating our own road maps. Being queer and maneuvering in a straight world is as if we have been given a map to Duluth when our intended destination is New York.
We must interpret and incorporate our emotions, attractions, identifications and the reactions to us without a point of reference. As adults, this is a challenge but hopefully we have created a personal network of people to relate with.
As children and teens that are just beginning to identify the fact that they are not like everyone else, they are basically set adrift with nothing. The difficulties of childhood and adolescence are challenging enough. Everyone struggles with his or her emerging identity in an environment void of autonomy. Everyone wants to fit in and yet stand apart as unique.
‘Be individual and special but not too special. Fit in and stick out.’ These are difficult and counterproductive mandates for straight kids. But for queer kids, they are stupefying.
According the to accounts of the story, Larry King ‘acted out’ his sexual identity by chasing other boys and openly flirting with them to the point of possible sexual harassment. If this is true then where was the supervision? Where was the guidance to inform him that being queer did not give him the right to disrespect other people?
If this were true, then he was most likely unconsciously attempting to turn the tables on the powerless and negative social position that his sexual orientation had fostered. He was learning from the bullying that he had experience because there was no other input for him to react to.
Where are the resources for queer youth? How can they learn how to develop in a healthy and appropriate way when, from the minute their differences become apparent, they are persecuted for them or at best, misunderstood?
Gay, and all that queer implies, is something that has thankfully become more and more visible. I think back to how much it would have meant to me as a kid to be able to see that there were other people like me in the world. But without the resources in place to provide guidance for our youth, this newfound mainstream queer visibility can give a green light to behavior that is counterproductive, dangerous and even potentially deadly.
We can’t expect the heterosexual community to recognize this and make provisions for queer youth. Any sex education for kids is fraught with controversy. Queer sex education and social support is something that is still perceived as recruiting or even criminal.
Thankfully, there is help! We must support and promote the wonderful organizations that exist within our own community and their outreach efforts. There are excellent options in place that provide information and safe connective networking. If you know of a teenager that might fall under the category of LGBTQ youth, please do what you can to inform them of the resources available. Here are a few great options:
Center on Halsted Youth Program is for LGBTQ youth ages 13-24. It provides a safe, supportive and confidential environment that allows young adults to build their understanding of the LGBT community and its resources. They offer a wide range of wonderful opportunities and services.
Center on Halsted 3656 North Halsted
OutProud, The National Coalition for GLBTQ Youth, serves the needs of young men and women by providing advocacy, information, resources and support. www.outproud.org
YouthResource is a web site by and for LGBTQ young people. It takes a realistic and holistic approach to sexual health and explores issues of concern to LGBTQ youth. www.youthresource.com
About Face Youth Theatre, theater and activism for LGBTQA YOUTH. www.aboutfacetheatre.com/AFYT/