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Story to Watch: The Trial of Brandon McInerney

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Hearings began yesterday in Los Angeles in the trial for Brandon McInerney, the student accused of murdering his openly gay and gender non-conforming middle school classmate Lawrence King in 2008.

The prosecution will argue that Lawrence’s murder was carefully planned out and constitutes a hate crime, saying that Brandon’s actions were influenced in part by a hatred of LGBT people in addition to alleged neo-Nazi sympathies. Defense attorneys are expected to argue on a platform of “gay panic,” in which Brandon's actions were  in response to alleged sexual advances made by the victim, who was 15 years old at the time he was killed. Brandon is charged with first degree murder. A voluntary manslaughter conviction would prevent Brandon from being sentenced for life and would make him eligible for release before he’s 40 years old, while a conviction of second-degree murder would make him ineligible for parole at least until he was in his 70s.

It is imperative that coverage of this legal case does not assume that the “gay panic” defense is actually a reasonable response to a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Such a defense is rooted in dangerous and negative stereotypes and is predicated upon false notions of LGBT people as predatory or overtly sexual. It would be dehumanizing and disrespectful to Lawrence’s memory to imply that he presented a threat to Brandon simply by virtue of his sexual orientation or gender expression. It also unjustly puts the blame on Lawrence for his own death.

GLAAD urges constituents to pay close attention to this story and notify us of any irresponsible journalism by by filling out an incident report, as we continue to monitor media coverage of this and similar stories.