A high school teenager died by suicide after being the target of homophobic bullying, according to reports that began to surface over the weekend on Facebook. Nigel Shelby, a student at Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Alabama, was reportedly 15 at the time of his death.
“We are heartbroken over the death of Nigel Shelby, a 15 year old freshman at Huntsville High School,” Rocket City Pride, the local LGBTQ+ Pride organization in Huntsville said in a statement. “Nigel took his life because he was bullied for being gay. There are no words that can be said to make sense of this devastating news.” In the message, organizers said that the group would collect donations at their Drag Brunch Sunday and their Drag Queen Bingo on Tuesday to help Shelby’s mother with funeral expenses. The $10,000 goal on a GoFundMe campaign had already been surpassed by more than $4,000 as of Monday morning. A candlelight vigil was also held in the Huntsville area on Sunday night.
“We were saddened to learn this morning of the death of Nigel Shelby, one of our 9th grade students,” Aaron King, the principal of Shelby’s school, wrote in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time. The message went on to describe possible changes in children’s behavior affected by the news and provided advice for parents on how to react.
“Suicide in Black youth is on the rise and has reportedly reached twice that of White youth,” Nadia M. Richardson of the organization No More Martyrs wrote in a tribute on Facebook. “Unfortunately, for evidence of this, you don’t have to look much further than the state of Alabama. I graduated from Huntsville High. I am still processing this loss. We have so much to understand and so much work to do. Racism, sexism, homophobia, classism; all of that plays a part. Bullying is a by product of a world ill equipped to include that which is deemed different.”
According to the Center for Social Equity, 74 percent of LGBTQ+ youth say they don’t feel safe at school. In Alabama specifically, according to locals there are no state-level protections for LGBTQ+ students in Alabama.
“These bullies have to be held accountable and until our state legislation shows that they have to do that, they are able to run amuck and do what they want,” drag queen Caila Malone told WZDX News at the recurring Rocket City Pride Drag Brunch, which dedicated this week’s event to Shelby. “It’s shaken all of us so we just have to bring our LGBTQ community in Huntville together and let all of these kids know, that they are not alone.” The Drag Brunch raised $800 for Shelby’s family.
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, contact The Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline 24/7/365 at 1-866-488-7386. Counseling is also available 24/7/365 via chat everyday at TheTrevorProject.org/help or by texting 678-678.