the fallen

SUICIDE: NYC Activist Joseph Jefferson, 26, Hangs Himself

Joseph Jefferson — a 26-year-old New Yorker who graduated from Harvey Milk High in 2002, worked at Gay Men of African Descent on HIV prevention, and is described as an “advocate for LGBT youth” — hanged himself Saturday.

His last Facebook message shared with his friends, “I could not bear the burden of living as a gay man of color in a world grown cold and hateful towards those of us who live and love differently than the so-called ‘social mainstream.’ Belonging is one of the basic human needs, when people feel isolated and excluded from a sense of communion with others, they suffer. I have been an advocate for my peers and most importantly youth because most have never had a deep emotional attachment to anyone. They don’t know how to love and be loved in return. The need to be loved can sometimes translate to the need to belong to someone or something. Driven by that need….. Most will do anything to belong.”

The exact circumstances behind Joseph’s suicide are unclear, but there’s no mistaking the internal pain and strife. I hate that the thought even goes through my head about hearing of “another one,” because none of these young LGBT people deserve to be clumped together in some statistical table. But as each week passes, and we learn of another person who concludes ending his life is a better choice than living it, the picture becomes bleaker and bleaker. [Nathan James; via Rod 2.0]

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  • jj

    as tragic as this is – its makes me very angry. suicide is very hurtful and self-centered. as a self-described “advocate for lgbt youth,” what kind of message are you sending? be weak and selfish.

  • JumpingUp

    I agree with JJ. But I still feel bad for this guy because he probably had depression anyway which only made the social problems he talked about feel insurmountable.

  • reason

    These are the true hero’s working for the forgotten. It can be psychologically damaging to be immersed in it day in and day out: to see people suffering from HIV and youth in dire straights. It really brings out the ugly side of the world including gays that are so caught up in their lives that they ignore some of these people like they never existed. It makes it easy for people like Joseph Jefferson to suffer from exposure bias, and come to see the way that the individuals that he is working with are treated as a representation of the wider worlds character. The fact that he went to Harvey Milk High was slightly troubling, I would be interested in learning about the focus and interest of individuals that attend Harvey Milk. Are they engaged in the going ons of the larger gay community, interested in equality, and other gay issues, or is it just like any other high school were everyone is coldly apathetic and focused on their own sphere? I am not aware of the situation surrounding his death but am merely expressing an opinion, I believe sometimes to much empathy can be destructive.

  • Hilarious


    It’s also personal, private, and not something to be judged by non-family members.

    I don’t believe in suicide, and I do feel it’s wrong, but I also don’t believe in judging others. Especially when they do something that in no way effects me, other than feeling sympathy for the pain he was going through that led him to ending his life.

    Suicides are done by people going through deep depression and usually have a chemical imbalance so blaming him is pretty much blaming the victim. Just because he wasn’t murdered doesn’t mean there wasn’t a problem he had no control over.

    There’s still a lot we don’t know about the mind and suicide isn’t something most people would be able to go through so clearly there’s something “turned off” in people who are even able to do this. Whatever drives our self-preservation isn’t active for them or they wouldn’t be able to go through with it no matter how sad or depressed they get.

    It’s easy to blame the victim, but we should really try and put more thought into what drives them to this point. It’s a lot more than just bullying or being hated by society because there’s always someone at the bottom of the totem pole, right now it’s gay people, before that black people, and so on and so forth.

    Clearly throwing drugs at the problem isn’t helping either because I just watched a documentary last night about a 15 year old kid killing himself even after he went to all sorts of therapy to prevent it.

    There’s something broken or turned off in these people that is disabling their self-preservation. Plain and simple. It’s against human nature to commit suicide. If a gun was pointed into a crowd how many people would just stand there and stare at the shooter emotionless? Probably the one person able to commit suicide.

  • Sora Ryu

    I in no way blame this man for his death. To call him selfish is to buy into the idea that gays, even gays who are activists aren’t suffering under society’s erroneous belief that they are disgusting, unnatural, or will never find love. To call him selfish is to woefully underestimate the discrimination gay people, especially gay people of color face. So I mourn his death and I sincerely hope that projects in response to GLBT suicide such as The Trevor Project and It Gets Better will expand their efforts and check this terrible epidemic (and it is an epidemic) of gay suicides.

  • Dollie

    @Sora Ryu: Beautifully put! I could not have expressed that better myself!

    This is all so tragic. What are we witnessing? Increased suicides and anti-gay violence? I knew we were facing a backlash, but would never have guessed the effects would be so somber.

  • Oliver


    No, suicide is about mental illness and pain. Only the ignorant believe that suicide is about being selfish.

    Depression is a severe illness that affects millions of people. If left untreated, people do commit suicide.

  • Jack

    It seems to me that suicide has become trendy for young LGBTs. It’s a complicated issue with a lot of thorns, but our current way of handling these suicides has–apparently–only made suicide a more attractive option.

  • Fitz

    When a 28 y/o with a strong history commits suicide, there is a different process going on than when a bullied 13 year old does. It’s still very sad.

    But let’s talk about these issues as separate ones: untreated (or more likely mistreated) depression and bullying-related powerlessness. We need to keep talking about the issues, and in a way that honors the fallen, but we have to get creative and careful about not contributing to any kind of group-tsunami amongst bullied children.

    And we need to talk about the more passive suicides too… the spirals into alcoholism, dangerous choices, etc. All the ways that gay men (especially) turn anger inward onto themselves instead of outward onto their world.

  • Deb

    If you truly want to learn more about suicide, read Dr. Thomas Joiner’s, “Myths About Suicide” and “Why People Die by Suicide.” Dr. Joiner lost his father to suicide fourteen years ago. He is one of the leading researchers in the country and is Distinguished Research Professor and Bright-Burton Professor of Psychology at Florida State University.

    I lost my sister to suicide almost 4 years ago. It is the most complicated of all griefs. I volunteer all of my time with those who have lost a loved one to suicide here in my community.

    Mr. Jefferson stated, “The need to be loved can sometimes translate to the need to belong to someone or something. Driven by that need….. Most will do anything to belong.” That statement sums up how many, many people feel before taking their life.

    Such a tragedy for a man who tried to make such a huge difference in his community!!! My thoughts and prayers are with his family. I know, first hand, what they are going through right now.
    God Bless his soul.

  • drums

    If one of those racist trolls come in here to say something disrespectful, I will lose my shit. This is heartbreaking news and a sober reminder of what social theorists call “the interconnectedness of oppressions”. A society that hates on people of colour and LGBT people is a society that hates on poor people, women, the disabled, whether they admit it or not. People need to wake up and realize that no form of oppression is okay, and that ALL forms of oppression affects EVERYONE. Activists from all walks of life need to start banding together. The fight against oppression lost an activist this week. This is a sad loss that affects anyone who believes in human rights.

  • Jouin

    Oh c’mon he was supposed to be a grown man, I presume he clearly had other unrelated emotional issues he couldn’t cope with. Those are sorry excuses to kill yourself and I don’t have to feel sorry for you. To be a weak-minded highschooler with all the apparent pressure in the world is one thing but a grown man living in fucking New York (!) are you for real?. I can’t emphasize this enough he was living in such a multicultural widely accepting (not without its faults of course) city and yet he apparently decided to be the martyr for this cause (again, I think there’s something more behind that note he left, and I know he doesn’t necessarily have to be the image of anything).
    I sympathize with all that he believed but what he did was not the answer.

  • ChrisM

    This is extremely sad. It’s discouraging in a whole new way to see an activist take his own life. At the same time, it makes it even more obvious how much we all need to contribute to the fight for equality – or at least that’s how I feel. If we’re all as outspoken and brave as Jefferson was, it would take some weight off of the shoulders of people in his predicament.

    I just hope these recent suicides won’t snowball any furhter. My fear is that the publicity of suicides by gay teens is making it seem like a natural decision.

    It’s ridiculous that DOMA and DADT are still in place and that ENDA is even a controversy. It’s infuriating to think that if these kids had at least had support from their own government, things might have turned out differently.

  • JumpingUp

    Drums : Activists from all walks of life have to start banding together?? Against who??

  • Tori

    If this many gay people are committing suicide this makes me wonder how many trans people are doing it too.Of course that probably doesn’t matter.

  • KevMusic

    While JJ’s expression seems almost hostile to the deceased, I do understand his anger. But what we must take into account is these few paragraphs don’t tell the full story of what this young man was feeling or going through. My hope is that we can somehow take the anger and sadness we all feel over these lost lives and turn it into something productive. The enemy is church and state sanctioned homophobia coupled with accepted and encouraged bigotry. Let’s be mindful of that and not waste energy attacking the dead or each other.

  • getgoin

    Its easy to judge when a person commits suicide but for the family it can be devastating as my relative committed a month ago. Having experience working as a mental health professional, it is a fact that Depression can often become fatal if untreated and YES it is A MENTAL ILLNESS. The problem with being diagnosed is that many in the black community believe that the word mental illness is negative and that it only happens to whites; however, it can be empowering when a person gets diagnosed and receives TREATMENT, it can SAVE A LIFE!! WE must change the negative stigma attached to mental illness in the community and maybe more will be open to SEEK Help. I Wish I had talked to my relative more often about it and MAYBE HE WOULD STILL BE ALIVE….

  • sarb16

    I have been urged to start thinking of these queer suicides as a social critique. i regret the responses on here that have accused these people as selfish or weak. i regret that we continue to think of these deaths on an individual level, critiquing their particular homophobic environments, as if the enemy isn’t so much larger than that and around (and inside of us) everyday, all of the time. homophobia and the multitude of ways it is manifested in our society must be named, confronted, and fought against in every way we can and know how to. we must stop turning our anger back onto our own bodies and we MUST stop attacking these youths. if we are queer we have the responsibility to act against the forces that make this world dangerous and dark for those who come out. we cannot be silent, and we must be angry, we must act….

    another reason i urge us to stop thinking about these deaths on such an individual level is because there is nothing individual about homophobia. therefore, I think it is interesting and productive to think about how these deaths might be thought of as offering a social critique, and if so – what they are saying about society (beyond that it is homophobic).

    In thinking about queer suicide as a social critique I wonder: did the queer people who have just taken their own lives do so trying to prove their humanness? were they so unrecognizable and invisible that death was the only way they could perform their humanity? that they could forge their way into the category of the human? I think about what Judith Butler has argued about the AIDS epidemic and the (complete) lack of public recognition the victims received. she writes that the lack of public grief illuminated that queer people were not considered fully human, their lives were not grieved because they were not conceived of as lives to begin with – and thus they remained outside of view, remained unmournable.

    so I think that we might think of these deaths as a result of the fact that queer people in this country still don’t have tongues. no one is hearing them when they cry and no one sees the bruises that are all over their skin. these are human lives, young lives, that felt they were so far gone, so far unreachable, so far from human: that death was their only way back, of finding belonging, in death they whisper in each and every one of us I was once here, I was once real human flesh, breathing and alive. in their death they say fuck all of you who didn’t recognize that when my bones were still upright. in their deaths they claim that their lives had value, worth – through their deaths we see that they were once alive. why couldn’t we see them before?

    I think that maybe these people saw the homophobia all around them, really grasped the fact that in this society, in this world, queer people are still not considered fully human. that we still aren’t granted the same rights, are still considered wrong and disgusting and alone. I wonder if maybe they thought the only way they could prove that they were human too was through death. maybe they thought people would see and hear them then….

    we need to fight for ourselves. we need to fight for our lives.

  • Lefty

    @drums: Well said x

  • Shouldn't certain gay sites & their commenters stop bullying gays too? ( John from England)


    Against homophobes, who else??? Duh.

  • jason

    It isn’t just the Right which attacks gays. The Left does too. It does it through the entertainment industry.

    The entertainment industry – which includes music and movies – is exceptionally hetero normative and homophobic in terms of content. Just look at the black music industry. In the last 20 years, black music has been characterized by homophobic rappers and hip-hop artists. Almost all black songs are about heterosexual relations. It’s a very exclusionary ethos.

    The black community is a socially conservative one. It is very unwelcoming of anyone outside of their orthodoxy, even their own kind.

  • jason

    It isn’t just the black community which is a socially conservative one. Social conservatism cuts across races. However, when you’re talking about an oppressed class within an oppressed class (ie gays within blacks), the oppression is magnified.

    A black gay man, for instance, will often feel double the oppression because his own kind are oppressing him too.

  • Fitz

    @jason: Jason, honestly, you often have very interesting ideas- but you package them with so much vitriol and barbed wire that your message ends up being overshadowed by offensiveness. If you are content to be a disliked petulant child, keep going as you are. But if you think that you have something to say, spend a moment considering how people will hear it. IOW: don’t be a jerk.

  • Bill and Ben

    How terribly sad.
    As a gay man living in Amsterdam, I send my love and support, to my brethren from me and my husband in Holland. I wish you all the same deserved equality soon.
    Keep going, it will get better.

  • jj

    @Sora Ryu: im over this talk of “epidemic of gay suicides.” if you think theres been an increase recently, youre ignorant to the past lgbt suicide rate. the only difference is 1) kids are coming out younger so we can def label them as lgbt suicides 2) we are much more connected thus we receive more information and the media has FINALLY picked it up

  • JumpingUp

    John From England : But activists “from other walks of life” ARE homophobes. Duh.

  • TJ

    Maybe some part of his depression comes from treatment of minorities from within the gay community? How many personal profiles on gay websites exclude blacks or asians or latinos, saying things like, “no offense, no black guys” or “no asians please.” Flipping through your average gay magazine, how many models of color do you see? The ethnocentrism of the gay community in America is appalling.

    Maybe think twice next time you write some innocuous-seeming comment about your racial preferences on adam4adam or whatever stupid website you go whoring around on. We can’t expect equal rights from the mainstream if we can’t treat other minorities with the same humanity we’re striving towards.

  • drums

    @JumpingUp: My apologies if my initial post was unclear, but John from England caught my meaning. I meant that race activists and feminists activists should have a stake in supporting gay rights activists, just as gay rights activists should be interested in supporting anti-racism and anti-sexism. I don’t know why or how you believe that non-gay activists are automatically homophobes…that’s not what I meant at all.

  • ewe

    I think it this is very sad and i just have to acknowledge his feelings that he left as his last are real.

  • JumpingUp

    Not ALL non-gay activists are homophobes, but certainly a lot of them are. Many of the African-American Civil Rights activists of the ’60’s are now major homophobes, and some feminist activists (the extremists) are anti-male, period. (And many Af Am activists are deeply sexist as well). So I don’t see why gay equality activists should be the slightest bit interested in working with those groups. It’s upper-class, upper-middle-class, and middle-class heterosexual Caucasians in America who are the friendliest groups towards gay equality. Jews are high on the list (according to every poll) and Hispanics are almost equal to Caucasians. But I guess you were talking about the way you wish it was rather than in anything reality-based, which is fine.

  • ait10101

    From Scientific American:
    n considering people’s motivations for killing themselves, it is essential to recognize that most suicides are driven by a flash flood of strong emotions, not rational, philosophical thoughts in which the pros and cons are evaluated critically. And, as I mentioned in last week’s column on the evolutionary biology of suicide, from a psychological science perspective, I don’t think any scholar ever captured the suicidal mind better than Florida State University psychologist Roy Baumeister in his 1990 Psychological Review article , “Suicide as Escape from the Self.” To reiterate, I see Baumeister’s cognitive rubric as the engine of emotions driving deCatanzaro’s biologically adaptive suicidal decision-making. There are certainly more recent theoretical models of suicide than Baumeister’s, but none in my opinion are an improvement. The author gives us a uniquely detailed glimpse into the intolerable and relentlessly egocentric tunnel vision that is experienced by a genuinely suicidal person.

    According to Baumeister, there are six primary steps in the escape theory, culminating in a probable suicide when all criteria are met. I do hope that having knowledge about the what-it-feels-like phenomenology of ‘being’ suicidal helps people to recognize their own possible symptoms of suicidal ideation and—if indeed this is what’s happening—enables them to somehow derail themselves before it’s too late. Note that it is not at all apparent that those at risk of suicide are always aware that they are in fact suicidal, at least in the earliest cognitive manifestations of suicidal ideation. And if such thinking proceeds unimpeded, then keeping a suicidal person from completing the act may be as futile as encouraging someone at the very peak of sexual excitement to please kindly refrain from having an orgasm, which is itself sometimes referred to as la petite mort (“the little death”).

    That said, suicides amongst gay people are very far above average, so there is more going on than mere “inner turmoil”, or depression. I’d put my bets on social attitudes as the discriminating cause here (no pun intended). The SciAm article suggests strongly that suicides are out of control, just like orgasm at the last minute. Not voluntary or considered (“tunnel vision” is mentioned).

  • Bill and Ben

    We do desperately need to get over racism and agism in our own community, to be more supportive and loving of each other. This is beyond ‘sex’ and ‘cruising’, it is about our commonality and the possibility of nurturing each other. Objectification which reduces the other to a possible sexual conquest dehumanises us all. We are far more than that.

  • RLS

    @JumpingUp: So funny that upper class and upper middle class whites to you are the most “friendly” to gay equality. Who do you think is funding issues like Prop 8? Who do you think the republicans are?

    Some of you people jump through serious hoops to justify your racism. These are the groups that are creating POLICY to vote against your interests, and yet you lap it up because you’re afraid of losing the privilege that endears you to them.

    Attitudes like yours are what hold our community back.

  • Angel

    We will all miss u joseph u were a true good friend and we know that u r watching down on all of us we love u and miss u

  • Jamreloaded

    To my dear friend…

    Thanx for our time shared, I will always carry on with your words. Ill be looking for you on the other side :)


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