The murder of gay teenager Lawrence King should wake us all up to the fatal condition of homophobia that still afflicts our nation.
King, 15, was in his classroom in Oxnard, Calif., with 20 other students on Feb. 12 when a fellow student shot him. King died a day later.
He had come out as gay, and there were reports of bullying and harassment because of his sexual orientation and gender expression of wearing make-up and dressing in "feminine attire.”
For all the progress we’ve made in the movement for gay rights over the last 40 years, the hatred of sexual minorities still takes its terrible toll. High-profile murders have not halted the lethal assaults.
Fifteen years ago, Brandon Teena, 21, was raped and killed in Nebraska. His murder was later the subject of the movie “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Ten years ago, Matthew Shepard, 21, was murdered in Wyoming, and his story became immortalized in the “Laramie Project” play.
Five and a half years ago, Gwen Araujo was only 17 when she was murdered in northern California for being transgender. Her story was made into the movie “A Girl Like Me.”
Despite the cultural attention, and despite efforts in the schools to raise awareness, the violence persists.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students are particularly at risk at school and are more likely to report being threatened or injured with a weapon than other students, according to a survey by the California Department of Education.
Why in 2008 are there still hate crimes against sexual minorities? What is it about a young boy in make-up or coming out as gay man or a transgender woman that makes bullies believe they can harass, attack, assault or even kill the person?
Yes, we need better laws.
What’s it going to take to get meaningful gun control is in this country? The same week that Lawrence King was shot dead we had the terrible mass murder at Northern Illinois University. Enough is enough.
We also need additional hate crime legislation, both on the state and federal levels.
But what is even more essential is ongoing, broad-based tolerance education in the schools.
And this education should be proactive, a core component of secondary education for all students and their parents.
Expressing our sexuality should not put a target on our backs.
Akilah Monifa is a lesbian of African descent and a freelance writer based in Oakland, Calif., where she lives with her partner and their two children. She writes about how race and sexual orientation intersect with politics, entertainment, and pop culture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.