More than 50 people huddled around the Civil War memorial in Dupont Circle Monday to pay tribute to Lawrence King, a gay California teen who was allegedly murdered because of his sexual preference.
“In schools across the country it can be very, very hard to be who you are and Lawrence was no exception,” said Eliza Byard, deputy executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which organized the vigil. “Faggot, dike, sissy, queer, fairy – (these) are the weapons of choice for students who attack each other (based on sexual orientation).”
King, a 15-year-old from Oxnard, Calif., was shot by a classmate early this month, a murder that is being called a hate crime by prosecutors. The junior high student had recently started wearing makeup and jewelry to school, where he often found himself subjected to bullying.
“We need to stand up for those who are forced into silence and can’t stand up for themselves,” said Amy Dorfman, a junior and member of GW’s Allied in Pride. About 15 members of Allied in Pride came out for the vigil. Dorfman said people are not paying enough attention to King’s death at the national level.
“We live in a heterosexual society, and it’s easy to ignore the reason he was killed – which was a hate crime,” Dorfman said said.
People across the country have held more than 30 vigils so far to remember King and more are scheduled for the coming weeks.
Christopher Dyer, director of LGBT affairs for Mayor Adrien Fenty’s administration, said at the vigil that the city is working to make the schools safer for gay and straight students. He said he looks forward to reporting new policies in the next couple of months.
Following a set of speeches by gay rights advocates, the crowd broke out singing “Gentle angry people” by Holly Near. One of the verses states, “We are gay and straight together/And we are singing, singing for our lives.” In 1979, Near led 100,000 gay rights activists in a rendition of the song at the first gay rights march on Washington.
Michael Gonzalez, a member of GLSEN, said King will be remembered as a part of the LGBT family, and because of that, activists must cling to him as a symbol of the struggles gay people face every day.
“I celebrate that he will no longer have to deal with the close-minded enemies of the LGBT community,” Gonzalez said. “Until all of our family and all of our community has rights, none of us do.”
He continued, “So if you don’t remember Lawrence King, please never forget him.”
GLSEN advocates for anti-LGBT bullying legislation, which currently exists in 10 states. There is no such legislation in the District.
Gay rights advocates have said they hope King’s murder will bring attention to the need for a federal hate crime bill, The Matthew Shepard Act, which is named for a Wyoming college student who was murdered 10 years ago because of his sexual orientation. The bill, which President George W. Bush has threatened to veto, would include crimes motivated by a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
Ethan Plummer, a high school senior from Pittsburgh, said he had heard about Shepard, but that King’s murder was the first serious hate crime based on sexual orientation for his generation.
“It was more emotionally upsetting for me,” Plummer said. “This is something that I’ve lived through that is now relevant.”
Freshman Rohmteen Mokhtan said that being from Houston, he could empathize with the bullying King experienced in high school.
“(The vigil) was really sad. Something about Lawrence King’s story really touched me . The fact that he suffered this fate shows how far we really have to go.”