Friday, February 27, 2009

Slain Teen's Family "Sues Everybody For Not Destroying His Gayness"

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Headline courtesy of Joe.My.God, who has provided extensive coverage of the Lawrence King tragedy since the California student was murdered one year ago. Another high school student is currently facing trial for the murder, which has been charged as a hate crime and which shocked civil rights activists across the country.

In a suit filed last year, the King family claimed their son's school was at fault for failing to enforce its dress code. Their theory was that the teen's gender-nonconforming attire and makeup made him a target for violence. That's right: since they can't exactly blame the victim, their own son, they're doing the next best thing: blaming his gender expression, and the school authorities for failing to suppress it.

Here's my legal analysis: this is nonsense. Here's my more detailed legal analysis: 1) Schools have a duty to protect students from severe or violent anti-gay bullying. 2) Students have a First Amendment right to variant gender expression. 3) Schools have authority to limit student speech that may be "disruptive," but that authority is largely limited to speech that is disruptive in itself, and usually does not extend to speech that simply might inflame classmates' political loyalties or social prejudices. 4) More to the point, while the precise scope of schools' authority to limit controversial speech is debatable, a school's liability is another matter. The lawsuit essentially seeks to force schools to suppress expression of queer identities on pain of massive legal judgments. It frames student-on-student violence as an unavoidable result of queer expression, thereby blaming the victims of hate violence and implicitly absolving the school of any responsibility to protect students once they are targeted by bullies.

But this is what you'd expect from a family that threw their son out of the house for being queer: it's not homophobia that killed Lawrence King, it turns out, but queerness itself. And now the family has taken this broken logic even further by suing the youth shelter that took King in after they threw him out, for giving him women's clothing and makeup; and suing the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance, which hosted youth programs attended by the teen, for supposedly encouraging him to hit on his killer. They also sued a teacher and a counter social worker on similar grounds. So now their theory is that not only do schools have a responsibility to keep students safe by suppressing queer speech, but anyone who provides services to youth and fails to discourage queer expression is responsible for hate violence against them.

This would just be funny if it didn't reflect the way so many parents, and other people who work with youth, think: that queerness is an inherently dangerous behavior that kids stumble into and need to be protected from. In other words, guns don't kill people, being a faggot kills people.

(As a side note, it will be interesting to see whether social-conservative groups decide to highlight this case as an example of how liberals are perverting and endangering our kids, or will rightly recognize that the lawsuit itself, rather than the conduct of the defendants, is what will appall most people.)

For good measure, though, the King family did include a claim against King's murderer.

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