Anderson: Detective Swanson, the prosecution’s expert on white supremacy, is presented as one of the leading protagonists, with many days on the witness stand. Meanwhile, Larry’s race as a motive is never fully investigated. As you state, it “barely registered.” How do you think this glaring omission shaped or, better said, misshaped the case?
Corbett: Judge Campbell, in a pretrial hearing, ruled that race was inadmissible as [part of] the hate-crime charge. Brandon had been heard to call Larry a “faggot”; he had not been heard to use the n-word, at least in relation to Larry. Missing in this ruling was the way in which Leticia’s gender was raced. In other words, gender-and-race hate cannot be disentangled. We see evidence of this in the 20 trans women who’ve been murdered this year in the U.S., 18 of whom were women of color. We see evidence of this in the ways in which black bodies are always precarious, always at risk of death, especially black adolescent boy bodies, and how that risk is routinely denied by white supremacy. Anti-black racism could only be denied, not examined. The court instructions left us to see Larry as black, but we were not invited to think of him as black. We could see but not recognize, which is precisely one of the ways in which racism functions.
Anderson: Among the most chilling aspects is how Larry's murder unmasked the bitter disapproval and harsh judgements of his teachers about gender questioning and homosexuality. You characterized Larry’s behavior as being deemed a matter of “discipline, not education.” What could teachers and administrators have done differently to create a safe space for this youth struggling with gender identity?
Corbett: There is a lot that they could have done, but minus any examination of their own prejudices and fears, I think we see that they were unable to take steps such as bringing in an expert on gender to talk with them, or even setting up an informal meeting with the teachers to discuss their concerns. Living gender, especially as it blooms in adolescence, brings forth a host of emotions and counter-emotions or defenses. When a group of people, such as schoolteachers, cannot consider those emotions, cannot discuss what is being felt and thought about gender, cannot learn together, then gender expansiveness can be felt as too much, and reactive discipline short-circuits any building of community. Without a community there was no way to speak about Leticia’s gender as it undoubtedly intertwined with her well known [to be] fragile mind. Gender is not only practiced by the sturdy and the steady among us.
Anderson: The widespread efforts to cast Brandon’s aggressive and bullying behavior as “boys will be boys” came fairly effortlessly from friends, teachers, neighbors, and correctional officers and was normalized to a startling degree. The message that boys are socialized to be tough, violent, unemotional was powerful and disturbing. Looking at schools as a microcosm of society, what can educators do to dismantle this mindset?
Corbett: That puts me in mind of something that Susan Crowley, Larry’s seventh-grade special-resource teacher said: “All of that looking at Larry, and we missed the bigger problem [referring to Brandon].” Ms. Crowley’s statement raises the question of: What exactly is the bigger problem? As I see it, both of these kids were failed by gender norms, as [those norms] negate the ways in which few of us actually live in accord with the lockstep ideals that we routinely promote about boys and girls. Thankfully, I do think that there is some questioning about these norms that has found its way into some schools. But most often that work is directed at girls (think, for example, about Title IX, or the ways in which feminism has found its way into some history books).