Nigel Shelby was a 15-year-old high school freshman in Alabama who, according to reports on Facebook, committed suicide because of homophobic bullying.
Many members of the LGTBQ+ community have been Nigel Shelby. I have been him. Nigel took his life because he was bullied for having the courage to live his life fearlessly and authentically. I wish I had that same level of courage at such a young age.
I recall many moments in middle and high school where I was picked on for being “different.” I was called hateful words even before I had the vocabulary to define them. I was pushed into lockers, hit and ridiculed. I became tired. There was an instance that still rings clear as day in my head; it was the moment I told my aunt and mother that I wanted to end my life. I was 13. I remember crying and telling them that I didn’t want to live anymore and that I was tired. I shouldn’t have been tired at such a young age. They reassured me that I had a purpose and that I was meant to be here. Love saved my life that day, but many like Nigel presumably aren’t so lucky.
Kids can be cruel, and even more so to individuals that they find unfamiliar from the norms that they’re accustomed to. According to Mental Health America, LGBTQ+ youth have identified bullying as the second most important problem in their lives, after non-accepting family members. The Center for Social Equality reports that 74 percent of LGBTQ+ youth do not feel safe in the schools they attend. Nigel committed suicide in Alabama, and according to the Movement Advancement Project, there are currently no laws in Alabama that protect gay and trans kids from bullying.
With no laws in place to protect them, bullies are able to run rampant and do as they please while taunting children who are merely just existing in a world that we were invited into. We are living our truths and fighting to accept parts of ourselves that we’ve been told is wrong or a mistake. Coming to terms with your sexuality is a hard process that looks different for everyone. It’s a complex journey—that needs no outside disruptions— as it has its own capability of turning your world upside down.
Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Christie Finley addressed Nigel’s suicide, according to a local news outlet, WHNT. Finley charged the community to come together and to teach the city’s youth the importance of “kindness, generosity, helpfulness and basically just being human.”
The things encouraged by Finely are simple actions, but as simple as they are, they have the ability to save someone’s life. Coming out and being open about your sexuality at any age can be difficult, but that act becomes easier when you are met with all of the above.
For many members of our community, a chosen family has saved our lives. These chosen families have affirmed us in ways many in our own biological families have neglected to. They’ve shown us love when we’ve been met with hatred and provided a shoulder for many of our tears. Shelby, unfortunately, didn’t get to experience this. He’ll never know what it’s like to be truly accepted and welcome with open arms. He’ll never experience falling in love. He’ll never know his full potential because of ignorance.
We cannot keep sweeping these instances under the rug and using the excuse that children are merely just being kids when their harmful speech is causing the death of their peers. We have to stop passing off our traumatic past as “culture” and look at ways to heal from our hurt so that we don’t pass this destruction on to future generations.
As David Johns eloquently said in a post on Instagram, we need to start reminding young members of the LGBTQ+ community that they are beautiful, brilliant and perfectly made. Johns goes on by stating that adults are to blame for failing to provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth to move through safely.
So, thank you, Nigel, for being you and for authentically existing in a space that was not welcoming. It is not your fault that these people did not see your greatness, and that is based on their own shortcomings. I’m sorry that you felt that this was the solution to your problems, but I hope that now you’ve found peace and are able to fly freely. Thank you for being the you that my younger self wished he was. By just merely existing, you have impacted so many lives and awakened many to the problems that we face in the black community.
Despite what anyone says, I want all members of the LGBTQ+ community to know that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, and you deserve everything your heart desires. Continue to live your life unapologetically and in your truth because that is the only way to true happiness.
Thank you, Nigel.