The family of a 14-year-old boy who took his own life after being the subject of homophobic bullying at his school in Huntsville, Alabama, have launched legal action against the school district for civil rights violations and wrongful death.

Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing the family of Nigel Shelby claimed the teenager took his own life because of being bullied for his sexual orientation as well as depression.

“Fourteen-year-old Nigel Shelby was bullied by his peers for his race and sexual orientation, and when he sought help from school administrators, was told that his sexuality was his choice,” Crump said in a statement.

“School administrators did not alert Nigel’s parents of his struggles in school so that he could receive help from a licensed mental health professional.”

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The statement went on to reveal that Nigel Shelby died by suicide on April 18, 2019 “Following his death, school administrators alerted Nigel’s mother to look for a suicide note in his backpack, revealing that they were aware of his plans to take his own life.”

In an interview with Shelby’s mother from June 2019, Camika Shelby quoted words from the letter her son wrote shortly before taking his own life- hauntingly it read “Mama, I tried so hard to be normal.”

“Shelby had also wrote that some kids in school ‘called him names’ he said he hoped it wouldn’t be so cruel in the afterlife. What kind of child has to think like this about something?”

His mother went on to say that adults at Huntsville High School knew what he was going through and responded at least once by telling him “being gay is a choice.”

“I was never contacted by the school and informed that my son was struggling with his sexual identity and regularly having discussions with a school administrator.”

In anticipation of a lawsuit from the Shelby’s family, Huntsville City School District released a statement, firstly citing the abnormality of publicly addressing on pending litigation. “At the district level, pillar two of the district’s strategic plan is Whole Student Development. This pillar includes resources dedicated to supporting the social and emotional needs of students. These include feeder-pattern social workers, licensed mental health professionals, and frequent professional development for staff on topics including culturally responsive instruction; equity and inclusion; and suicide prevention.”

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The school has alleged to have also encouraged students to “speak with a trusted adult at their school if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide.”

Just last month, the Alabama state Senate passed the “Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act” which seeks to criminalize the provision of best-practice, gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary youth.

Sadly, Shelby’s death is just the tip of the iceberg, with a recent study undertaken by GLSEN- an American education organization working to end discrimination and to prompt LGBT cultural inclusion and awareness, revealing that 79% of students in Alabama surveyed have been verbally harassed or assaulted because of their sexuality and 63% were harassed due to their gender expression.

 

If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.

For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

 

 

 

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