Seeking justice

Family of gay teen who died by suicide to sue school over bullying

Nigel Shelby.

The family of Nigel Shelby, a 14-year-old Huntsville, Alabama teenager, has launched a lawsuit against Huntsville City Schools for civil rights violations and wrongful death. Shelby, a gay youth, took his own life in 2019 following extensive bullying at school over his sexual orientation.

“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,” the family said in a statement, according to “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. On April 18, 2019, Nigel Shelby died by suicide. 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.”

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Huntsville City Schools released a statement of their own last month, apparently anticipating the lawsuit. The district reiterated that it does not support bullying, and has resources available for LGBTQ students to receive counseling as well.

“The district wishes to remind students, families, and staff members of the longstanding resources in place to support students,” the statement read in part. “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.”

“Consistent with the district’s Core Values, HHS has a strong Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in place to provide support to LGBTQ+ students, and the district has partnered with GLSEN and the Anti-Defamation League to support its schools and students,” the district also added.
Despite advances in legal standing, civil rights and cultural visibility, LGBTQ youth continue to have much higher rates of depression, suicide and self-harm which experts attribute to cultural stigma and hostility. Anti-suicide charity The Trevor Project reports that gay and bisexual youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.