12-year-old boy slapped, tormented by family on Instagram Live for being gay, sparking outrage

Warning: This article contains disturbing descriptions of violence.

Devin Barrington-Ward. 11Alive screenshot

A video of a young boy in Atlanta physically and verbally assaulted by his alleged family, and with the word “gay” shaved into his head, has gone viral. Now, a local politician has stepped in with a message of hope for LGBTQ kids everywhere.

11 Alive News reports the video first appeared on Instagram June 17. In it, adults slap and beat a 12-year old boy identified only as “Tyler” while also yelling verbal insults at him. The word “gay” also appears shaved into his hair as part of the humiliation. Not long after, the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) stepped in to remove the youth from the home and place him in foster care.

Amid the horror, the video caught the eye of Devin Barrington-Ward, a local activist. Barrington-Ward also happens to be running for city council in the district where the footage was taken. For Barrington-Ward, who is gay himself, the incident also presented an opportunity.

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“It popped up on my social media on Friday and when I saw it my heart was broken because I saw a piece of myself in that,” Barrington-Ward told 11 Alive News. “As a black queer man, I have experienced some of the same homophobia and some of the same abuse by the hands of people that I love as a child.”

Barrington-Ward enlisted the help of Hope Giselle, a Black trans activist based in Miami, to reach out to the boy’s mother and discuss “what had took place, about some of the challenges that she’s had as a single mother of eight and about some of the challenges raising a young Black queer child in poverty.” He also got in touch with young Tyler to counsel him on how to cope with the trauma.

“What I told him on the patio at his home is that you’re loved, we care for you, we got your back,” Barrington-Ward said. “I apologized because we didn’t create enough safe spaces to prevent this from happening.” He added that he wants the boy to “see a version of himself in the future; so that, that it does get better and that it’s important to fight for your survival because there is a future for you.”

In addition to offering his personal counseling, Barrington-Ward and Hope Giselle have launched two fundraisers for the boy: an online fundraiser and a local drag show, set to take place this Thursday at My Sister’s Room in Atlanta. A special panel discussion on homophobia and violence will follow the show.

At the time of this writing, it remains unclear how long Tyler will remain in the custody of DCFS.