White House seeks child-speech oversight

Roughly 150 various advocates — lobbyists for gays and lesbians, legislators, White House officials, at least one cabinet secretary and the first lady — gathered around President’s Obama’s bully pulpit in the White House Thursday to cheer for increased government monitoring and intervention in Facebook conversations, in playgrounds and in schoolrooms around the country.

No officials at the televised East Room roll-out of the White House’s anti-bullying initiative suggested any limits to government intervention against juvenile physical violence, social exclusion or unwanted speech. None mentioned the usefulness to children of unsupervised play. None suggested there were any risks created by a government program to enforce children’s approval of other children who are unpopular, overweight, or who declare themselves to be gay, lesbians or transgender.

“It breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, on the playground, or even online,” first lady Michelle Obama said.

“We’re going to prevent bullying and create an environment where every single one of our children can thrive,” the president said, as he announced a series of government actions intended to fund, guide and pressure state and local officials to adopt regulations and programs that would shield children from insults or social-exclusion as well as from physical harm.

But the lethal risks of additional federal school-yard regulation will be underlined May 2 in a California courtroom. Brandon McInerney was 19 days past his 14th birthday, and living with his divorced father, when he murdered Larry King, by shooting him dead in a classroom, said McInerney’s lawyer, Scott Wippert.

In the pending trial, “the evidence we will introduce is that [King] was bullying and sexually-harassing” McInerney, with the tacit approval of school officials who excused the harassment as legitimate expression of a female “gender identity,” Wippert said. The approved sexual-harassment took place on the schoolyard, in front of other kids, and it included offers of sexual favors and precipitated taunts from other boys. “It was outrageous,” said Wippert. When school officials refused to discipline King, McInerney shot him in front of a teacher who had given him the dress he was wearing, he said.

If the situation turned out differently and McInerney had killed himself, the “focus would have been on the school [officials] for allowing the [sexually themed] bullying,” Wippert argued. But that’s not what happened, and the local district attorney is now trying McInerney as an adult and charging him with first-degree murder for shooting and killing King, which could put him away for the rest of his life, Wippert said.

Gay advocacy groups, principally the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, argue that kids who may be gay or lesbian need protection from taunts and insults, as well as from already-illegal violence, and that schools should promote acceptance of homosexuality. “GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression [and it] seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community,” according to a statement from GLSEN, whose founder, Kevin Jennings, now heads the anti-bullying program at the Department of Education.