Homophobia/transphobia … gay panic in court!

No doubt US lawyers, picking over the ashes of the verdict in what is now going to be known as the McInerney mis-trial case will be having a field day. For the English audience, the case is simple.

Back in 2008, Brandon McInerney, then 14 and a student at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, California walked into a morning computer lab where he placed a .22-caliber handgun to the head of fellow student Scott King – and fired twice.

Reports of the trial reveal a near 50:50 jury split: 7 jurors wanted McInerney to go down for “voluntary manslaughter”, 5 voted for murder, none, apparently, went along with prosecution claims that this was a hate crime motivated by white supremacist beliefs and a hatred for homosexuals. Or transsexuals. More of that in a moment.

However, without a clear majority one way or another, no verdict was possible: the whole enterprise became “mis-trial”…and Scott will be back in court again some time maybe not so soon.

Meanwhile, with Scott not being there to defend himself, the Defence made much of his role in “causing” his own death: inside the courtroom, he became caricature…according to James Withers of 365Gay bloglittle more than a “lecherous, femmy, youngster who preyed on innocent McInerney”.

Oh, yeah. That would do it. As Withers observes drily, that’s why King was “made” to bring his gun into school. He obviously had little choice in the matter.

Of course, as i advise others when it comes to legal matters: I wasn’t there. I wasn’t in court. I don’t know what arguments were put by either side. Still, it is hard to read the result without a sinking feeling that somewhere deep – maybe not so deep – in the american psyche is a view that if a gay person comes on to you, you are perfectly justified in “defending” yourself, even using lethal force.

Its not really a “gay panic” defense, though, as some suggest. Sure: there are elements of that – the presumed overwhelming fear of what might happen if one is seduced “by a gay” – but in English law at least, the gay panic defence, when it has been tried, applies to an over-reaction in the heat of the moment: not this pre-meditated carrying of a gun into school and pulling the trigger not once but twice.

For me, though, far more telling is the report, in LA Now, that students and teachers at the school “saw tensions on campus rising after King began coming to school dressed in makeup and girl’s boots”.

Yeah, again. Make-up! Girl’s Boots! Disgraceful! What was he thinking of? Wasn’t he just ASKING for it? And that’s the rub, that’s the nub of the matter.

The idea that how someone dressed, how they presented gender-wise should be viewed in any way as a reason for “tensions” to rise. That i don’t get. I so don’t get.

And its also why i hinted at transphobia too. Not trying to appropriate. Certainly not: i have no idea how Scott self-identified and if he identified as gay, fair enough.

The problem here – and elsewhere – is how the bigots identify us. I doubt that McInerney made any subtle distinction between gay and trans or would have cared if someone else had tried to. All he saw was something wrong…effeminate…not fitting the gender stereotype, and therefore he felt justified in killing “him/she/it”.

Being gay is not the same as being trans or being bi, but those who hate don’t really care. All they know is that we’re different – and if you’re different, then at some level, you deserve to die.




5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    If we like to think we’d do better over here, it’s worth considering this case along side the recent trial of a man accused of assaulting Celtic manager Neil Lennon. The incident was clearly captured on camera, the police presented it as a crime aggravated by religious hatred, and the jury still acquitted: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/alancochrane/8737417/Neil-Lennon-assault-case-an-incredible-verdict.html

  2. 2

    Liz Church said,

    Wasn’t there a scene in Deliverance where they decide not to go the cops on the basis that they wouldn’t get a fair trial?

  3. 3

    Lucy Melford said,

    It’s absolutely a matter for concern when deviance from the norm results in punishment or death. Sadly, this is what still happens all over the world. Weak-minded, fearful people rid themselves of those who stand out and threaten their narrow view of What Is Right. Although social attitudes are improving, any of us could encounter a bigot or self-appointed vigilante and suffer harm for which legal redress is not certain. Which is why we are forced into two practical positions: blend in if possible (you need to be short and dainty and willing to adapt to expectations); or do what you can, or want to, but be eternally wary and alive to possible trouble.


  4. 4

    […] I suspect that all of the above is second cousin to the story I posted a week or so back, about the US student whose classmate shot him. It was all his fault because he was gay. Or […]

  5. 5

    Evelyne said,

    The idea that someone could kill another person because that person dressed differently, even cross-dressed, is very shocking. At that rate, no show-biz personality who has ever played in drag would be allowed to live. There simply is no excuse for shooting anyone at all, unless they are trying to kill you, or it is by accident (maybe).
    Having said that, I know from experience just how irritating some people can be – such that you want to sock them one – and although there’s no excuse for shooting the guy, there might have been other reasons why the shooter went beserk. Transgendered people have a bad reputation for difficult behaviour – perhaps they like to trample people’s boundaries with good reason – and it is not inconceivable that a fairly slow individual might have felt unbearably insulted by a highly intelligent person who was pushing the boundaries in spheres he could not handle.
    I don’t want to give the guy any excuses, I just want to point out that things are not always black and white and we don’t know the details. Having said that, given their vulnerability, there perhaps ought to be special laws to protect people like gays and transgendered people – but then you don’t necessarily know or want your sexuality to be the first thing people think of when they think of you… And how would you do it anyway…? It’s really all a matter of education.
    So.. good for you and your blog. Keep up the good work.

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