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They shoot gays, don't they? 

Bias crimes increase across the nation – and hit N.C.'s LGBT community.

Even before last winter, Lawrence "Larry" King, an eighth grader at E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, Calif., had it rough. His classmates in the school, north of Los Angeles in Ventura County, routinely picked on him. "Hey you gay kid, you want to wear lipstick?" one of King's friends recalled of the taunting. Another classmate told the Los Angeles Times, "You'd hear, 'Faggot! Hey faggot!' That was happening in every class."

For King, who had been adopted and then recently removed from the only family he knew by child protective services, every day must have been a nightmare.

Friends say that the anti-gay slurs and vitriol only grew worse as the young man began to come out more visibly, wearing make-up and girls' boots with his school uniform. It's also alleged that the slightly built young man began hitting on, that is to say flirting with, Brandon McInerney, a fellow eighth grader, known as one of the "cool" guys in school as well as a "real jerk."

McInerney's life had been stained by violence and turmoil. His father allegedly shot his mother in the arm, shattering her elbow, and each of his parents accused the other of drug addiction and physical assaults before finally divorcing. By the time he reached junior high, the worst seemed behind for McInerney, who often spent his afternoons studying martial arts and training for the Young Marines, a service program whose mission is "character building, leadership, and promot[ing] a healthy, drug-free lifestyle." To many, it seems McInerney was an enigma.

King told friends that the Young Marine was "cute," and he may have asked, even dared, McInerney to be his valentine. Boys being boys, McInerney's friends started to joke that he, too, must be a fag. The students recalled that McInerney told King to "fuck off," or something close to that. Later that same day, McInerney mentioned to one girl "that he was going to kill Larry," a classmate recalled for the Times.

On Feb. 12, a month after King turned 15, he came to school at 8:30 a.m. as usual, and as the other students unpacked their lunches and books, McInerney put a gun to King's head and fired two shots. Upon arrival at the hospital, King was declared brain dead and kept on life support until the day after Valentine's Day so that his organs could be properly donated.

Ventura County prosecutors alleged the killing was a "premeditated hate crime," one of a growing number of such crimes against LGBT people. According to the FBI's most recent statistics, bias crimes against gays made up 16 percent of all reported hate crimes in 2006 -- or 1,195 documented incidents. This is an increase: In 2005, bias crimes motivated by sexual orientation composed 14 percent of all documented incidents.

Many LGBT advocacy groups claim that the actual numbers are much higher because victims are often fearful of reporting crimes and many of the police agencies participating in data collection provide unreliable information. For instance, a 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 191,000 hate crimes occur annually; however, in 2006, the FBI's reported number of all hate crimes in the United States was 7,782. It is unlikely that the number decreased so precipitously during that time.

In 2006, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT civil rights organization, told the media: "Sexual orientation remains the third-highest recorded bias crime in our country, which underscores that anti-gay hate crimes are a very real problem nationwide." In North Carolina, sexual orientation accounted for nearly 20 percent -- or 10 of 66 -- of all reported bias-motivated criminal incidents, behind race and religion, according to a 2004 study released by Partners Against Hate, a project of the Anti-Defamation League.

Closer to home, 20-year-old Sean Kennedy was murdered about a year ago outside a gay bar in Greenville, S.C., by then-18-year-old Stephen Moller, who called Kennedy an anti-gay slur and then punched him in the head so forcefully that he broke his face bones. Kennedy fell; the resulting impact killed him. Leaving the scene, Moller called one of the victim's friends, saying, "You tell your faggot friend that when he wakes up he owes me $500 for my broken hand."

Two weeks ago, Moller, whose murder charge had already been reduced to involuntary manslaughter, was sentenced to three years in jail for Kennedy's killing. He received credit for the seven months he had served. According to a Greenville, S.C., newspaper, Moller's attorney, in arguing for the shortest possible sentence, told the judge that jail time would "only hurt him" and that "there are some bad people in that place, and he's going to be exposed to things he's never been exposed to."

It's not for me to rain on anyone's gay pride parade, but many LGBT people, including myself at times, have spent the past month in a state of pink triangle euphoria. Our collective high first erupted after the California Supreme Court paved the way for same-sex weddings in mid-May and then, again, after New York Gov. David Paterson allowed that out-of-state lesbian and gay marriages would be recognized by the state as it does any other union.

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