What is normal?

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Feb. 26, 2008 


No jokes this week. Some topics are more important than cheap laughs.

The tragic death and amazing life of Lawrence King is one of those topics.

Lawrence, or more appropriately, Larry, was a normal 15-year-old junior high student. He had a love of animals and built a special connection with a stray dog, showing his compassionate personality.

That’s normal, for youth often have a connection with animals who are otherwise marginalized.

He loved to sing and was even touted as a future American Idol contestant by his family.

That’s normal. The popularity of American Idol has led many youth to explore their talents and dream amazing dreams.

He was also teased from time to time by fellow classmates.

That’s normal, too, albeit an unfortunate reality of juvenile interactions.

Larry also displayed an innate sense of patriotism, helping his mother knit scarves for U.S. soldiers serving overseas. He wanted the soldiers to receive a Christmas gift from someone they were protecting.

That’s normal, for citizens often feel strongly about supporting our troops.

His favorite color of eye shadow was blue, and he enjoyed the occasional lipstick to compliment his black, high-heeled boots.

That might not be so normal for most teenage boys, but, then again, what exactly defines “normal?”

On Feb. 12, two days before the shootings at Northern Illinois University, Larry was shot in the head and killed while attending school at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif.

This was certainly not a normal occurrence for a teenage boy, though the spate of school shootings in recent memory does seem like a dependable, albeit deplorable, news item.

What sets Larry’s death apart from the other school shootings of this generation is the incident’s targeted nature. The 14-year-old classmate charged with Larry’s murder has also been charged with a hate crime. Larry, you see, was gay.

Larry’s tragic slaying at the hands of an ignorant individual seems reminiscent of Matthew Shepard’s equally tragic death 10 years ago. Shepard, as many might recall, was beaten to death in Laramie, Wyo., because of his sexual orientation.

It’s been a decade, but little has changed. We’ve gone from surplus to deficit in the federal budget and from tranquility to post-9/11 fear, but school shootings and hate crimes still abound. A play called “The Laramie Project” continues to tour the country, highlighting the life and loss of Shepard. And, as has always been the case, the Westboro Baptist Church and its maniacal leader, Fred Phelps, also travels the country, protesting the play and maintaining that Shepard is burning in Hell. The Web site of the “church” is

Amidst all this, there are people like King, people who refuse to be merely normal. By living the challenge of being openly gay in a setting that is overwhelmingly opposed to such a lifestyle, Larry became much more than a normal teenager.

No, he wasn’t just normal – he was, and still is, an inspiration.


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