Described as one of the worst hate crimes to be committed against an LGBTQ person in America since Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder in 1998, the slaying of 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King by a fellow classmate in February of 2008 has been depicted in the new HBO documentary, Valentine Road. The film weaves through the events that led up to Larry’s murder, the aftermath and the trial of his 14-year-old killer, Brandon.
Larry was anything but an ordinary teenager. He identified as bisexual, was effeminate and enjoyed wearing women’s clothing and makeup. He was the victim of relentless bullying by his classmates. Just like any other teenager, Larry had a crush on one of his peers, Brandon. Leading up to Larry’s death, Larry harassed Brandon. He called him his love and spread rumors that they were in a relationship together. A few days before Valentine’s Day, Larry went up to Brandon while he was playing basketball with his friends and asked Brandon if he would be his valentine. In the days leading up to Larry’s death, Brandon became increasingly agitated towards Larry. On February 12, 2008, as Larry sat in his English class, he was shot at point-blank range twice in the back of his head by his crush. He succumbed to his injuries a day later.
Shockingly, several individuals interviewed in Valentine Road were unsympathetic towards Larry while they sympathized with Brandon. Two teachers said Larry wouldn’t have cross-dressed and worn makeup if he was in their classes. One teacher said she would have spanked the transgenderism right out of him, while she condoned Brandon’s interest in white supremacy. Another teacher said Larry would still be alive if she was his teacher. She would have made him check his cross-dressing at the classroom door.
Three jurors that served on Brandon’s 2011 mistrial were shown sitting around a kitchen table portraying Larry as Brandon’s aggressor, not Brandon’s victim. One of them said that Brandon was, “Just solving a problem,” in justifying Larry’s murder. After Brandon accepted a plea deal that put him in prison for 21 years, the women talked with cameras outside the courthouse saying his sentence was too long because he was just a kid, had no prior criminal history and “It wasn’t like he kidnapped anyone.” Brandon may not have kidnapped Larry, but he did rob Larry of his right to life.
When we hear about murders like Larry King’s and Matthew Shepard’s, suicides that result from anti-gay torment, and people being bullied for being LGBTQ, we often find ourselves seeking answers as to why these things are happening. The answer is quite simple; it’s the message that gay people are morally and spiritually repugnant. In the wake of Larry’s murder, Ellen Degeneres made an emotional plea to her audience. Ellen said, “Somewhere along the line, Brandon learned that it was so threatening, so awful and so horrific that Larry wanted to be his valentine that killing him seemed like the right thing to do and when the message out there is so horrible that being gay can get you killed, we need to change the message.”
With politicians, religious leaders and pundits raising the Bible to divine status, the environment they have created has resulted in society believing they are the moral authority over the world – as though they speak for God. This has seemingly resulted in the Bible being used as a weapon of power to oppress others. The Church’s oppression has not been limited to the secular world, but has even been used as a weapon to oppress its own faithful. Not only have these people used the Bible to oppress, they have used it to justify discrimination against the LGBTQ community under civil law.
Many lawmakers and religious leaders encourage the families of LGBTQ people to exercise “tough love” with a “healthy detachment.” In the documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So, Mary Lou Wallner tells the story about how her daughter, Anna committed suicide after Mary Lou exercised a tough love mentality. A few months before her death, Anna told Mary Lou that she had, “Done colossal damage to her soul with her shaming words.” The shaming words Anna spoke of were the words Mary Lou’s church had taught her.
Mary Lou Wallner’s story in For the Bible Tells Me So:
Not unlike Mary Lou Wallner’s story, the relationship between Mary Griffith and her son, Bobby is depicted in the true story, Prayers for Bobby. Mary told Bobby that she wouldn’t have a gay son and if he prayed and dedicated his life to the Bible that God would deliver Bobby from his abomination. Bobby couldn’t deal with his mother’s ignorance. He jumped off a bridge, killing himself instantly.
Trailer of Prayers for Bobby:
In both Mary Lou and Mary’s situations, they both began seeing the Bible in a different and more loving light after their tragedies. Unfortunately for them, their change of hearts were too late for Bobby and Anna. Instead of living a life of regret, Mary and Mary Lou wouldn’t let their children’s suicides be in vain. They both became pioneers in changing attitudes about the relationship between sexuality and Christianity. On her non-profit organization’s web site, Mary Lou Wallner quotes a Bible verse we all should live by:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV).
While Mary Lou Wallner and Mary Griffith discovered the errors of their ways after it was too late, politicians and religious leaders continue to lead families down the road Mary Lou and Mary once found themselves down. As long as these politicians and religious leaders continue to dupe society into oppressing their children, their colleagues and their peers while making society believe the gay community is destroying America and asking for the wrath of a vengeful God, then the message we send Matthew’s murderers, Larry’s killer and all the bullies out there is that what they’re doing is justified. In reality, it’s the anti-gay crowd that is destroying this country, ripping families apart and leading the charge for bullying, violence and self-injury.
During the height of the news media covering teenage suicides resulting from incessant demeaning bullying in 2010, the It Gets Better Project was launched. Kathy Griffin participated in the video campaign by providing her own video. In part, Griffin said, “The politicians, so-called religious leaders and pundits who have made careers out of saying being gay is wrong, or immoral, or that gays are somehow less than, all have blood on their hands.”
Kathy Griffin’s full It Gets Better video:
I’m uncertain as to whether neoconservative radio talk show host and FOX News contributor, Sandy Rios saw Kathy Griffin’s video, but she was recently caught trying to wash the blood off the hands of political pundits and religious leaders that have profited from destroying families. On the eve of the 15-year commemoration of Matthew Shepard’s death, Rios took the stage at the Family Research Council’s annual “Values Voter Summit,” last weekend to introduce a new theory into Matthew Shepard’s murder. According to her, the gay community and liberals conspired to savagely murder Matthew. The LGBTQ community and liberals needed a martyr to gain sympathy from society. By framing two anti-gay killers, the conspirators succeeded in faking-out Americans, thus garnering unabashed support from society, which led to the advances in equality we have seen over the years. As we all know, Matthew Shepard didn’t die as a result of some grand conspiracy. He was tortured and murdered because at some point, Matthew’s perpetrators learned that he was a threat. Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard once said, “When you call someone a ‘fag,’ it identifies them with a group, a group that in today’s climate is open to harassment. So by calling someone a ‘fag,’ you are giving yourself and the people around you the license to either damage this individual verbally or physically.”
In one of the most poignant moments in Prayers for Bobby, Mary Griffith’s former pastor spoke during a city council meeting about how the LGBTQ community is spitting in the face of decency and morality. Afterwards, Mary took the podium. She talked candidly about how she believed that homosexuality was a sin and that homosexuals deserved to live an eternity in Hell. Her opening remarks were met with great enthusiasm and praise. As Mary continued speaking, she admitted that she did everything in her power to help cure Bobby of his sickness only to learn that everything she was taught was bigotry and dehumanizing slander. Fighting back her tears, Mary said that Bobby’s suicide was a direct result of his parents’ ignorance and fear. Her church had taught her to act as she did when Bobby was alive. She encouraged church members and leaders to reconsider how they broached the topic of homosexuality, reminding them that children were listening. Mary was met with a roaring standing ovation after her remarks.
Mary Griffith’s speech at the city council meeting in Prayers for Bobby:
Families, bullies, Matthew’s murdereres, the teachers in Larry’s school, Brandon and his jurors weren’t born with the ignorance and hatred they espoused. They were taught their beliefs from powerful forces that represent us in government and preach from a pulpit each week claiming to speak for God. I may not be religious, but my knowledge of the Bible is far greater than the average joe’s understanding of it. I must say, I remember a very different God from the God described by those that use religion as a means to promote their own agendas for personal gain while claiming to be God’s speakers.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, he had a dream that one day people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, I yearn for the day when individuals aren’t judged based upon who they love, but by who they are as a person. We are all different in many different ways, but one commonality we share with each other is that we’re all human. Each of us deserve dignity and respect. It’s time for people to stop using a weapon of oppression to rationalize discrimination and bigotry and use the Bible as a tool to embrace diversity, love, acceptance and compassion for one another, just as the book they hide behind commands us to do.