Last week, Alabama teenager Nigel Shelby died by suicide after being bullied by his peers for his sexuality. Now, his mother, Camika Shelby, wants the public to honor her son not just by remembering his tragic death, but by carrying on his legacy of tolerance, acceptance, and love.
“I don’t want him to be remembered as a kid who was bullied for being gay and who took his own life,” she told NBC News. “He was so much more than that. He was sunshine.”
Shelby said 15-year-old Nigel had big dreams of becoming a performer and that he always tried to make others happy. “Nigel was the sweetest child,” she said. “He was so outgoing. He was always full of joy, full of light, always dancing, always singing.”
Though he’d told her he had been bullied and had been struggling with depression (they had been seeing doctors and psychiatrists), Shelby said she had no idea he had experienced suicidal ideation. As the parent of an LGBTQ child, Shelby now wants people to be more mindful of how they treat others and to celebrate rather than tear down everyone’s unique differences.
“I definitely want to bring awareness to the bullying because when kids are struggling with their own identity, if they’re going through stuff already and you have other kids who are making them feel bad about themselves, it has an even bigger impact than if they weren’t struggling with those things.”
Unfortunately, not even Shelby’s death was enough to strike compassion in the heart of Madison County Deputy Jeff Graves, who belittled the LGBTQ community and Shelby in a public Facebook post.
“Liberty Guns Bible Trump BBQ — that’s my kind of LGBTQ,” he wrote in the now-deleted post, according to local news station WAFF.
Graves continued to state that he was “offended” by what he dubbed the “fake [LGBTQ] movement.”
“Society cannot and should not accept this behavior,” he added.
WAFF reports that Graves is on administrative leave as the department conducts a full audit.
Huntsville High School, where Shelby was a freshman, also released a statement on Facebook encouraging parents to teach kids how to be better allies to the LGBTQ community and those struggling with depression.
“Parents, please talk to your students about Nigel’s death,” the statement read. “Know and be aware of changes in your child. Talk to them about what they see, words they speak and actions they can take to make a difference. We must be better.”
The message comes during a critical time. Suicide continues to be the tenth leading cause for death in the United States and claimed nearly 50,000 lives in 2017, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Research from JAMA Pediatrics found that suicide rates significantly spiked amongst Black youth between 2001 and 2015. As a result, Black youth were dying by suicide more than twice as often as white youth.
Celebrities, politicians, and activists have spoken out in the aftermath of Shelby’s death, rallying fans to be more inclusive and caring.
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This Nigel Shelby story has been haunting me for days. It’s so heart breaking to think about a child so young being bullied – literally – to death for living out loud. And as the mother of a queer child who was bullied I know how far kids go and how close to the edge young folks are pushed. As much co-opting as there is of queer culture there’s still way too much stigma and, of course, danger on queer lives. Praying for this child’s family and community. 💕 Image Created by @kendrickdaye of @equalityequation
“This Nigel Shelby story has been haunting me for days,” #MeToo founder Tarana Burke shared on Instagram. “It’s so heartbreaking to think about a child so young being bullied — literally — to death for living out loud. And as the mother of a queer child who was bullied, I know how far kids go and how close the edge young folks are pushed. As much co-opting as there is of queer culture there’s still way too much stigma and, of course, danger on queer lives.”
Justin Bieber also shared his thoughts on Instagram.
“This is horrible. I hate this with a passion.. stop the hatred please,” he wrote. “I don’t understand how people can be so ignorant and hateful.”
Presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker also shared their condolences and hopes for a more accepting future in the U.S. for all LGBTQ children and adults.
While we can’t change society overnight, we can change the way we talk about diversity in our homes, starting by teaching children empathy and compassion and leading by example. It’s our responsibility to ensure all children feel accepted, loved, and valued. We owe that to Nigel Shelby.
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