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Antigay Tennessee D.A. Won't Bring Charges in Outed Bi Teen's Suicide

Craig Northcott and Channing Smith

Channing Smith died by suicide after being outed online, but D.A. Craig Northcott says no crimes were committed by those who shared Smith's personal messages.

A Tennessee district attorney with an anti-LGBTQ record won't bring criminal charges related to the case of a bisexual teenager who died by suicide after being outed online.

Channing Smith, 16, of Manchester, Tenn., had confided in a few friends about being bi. But two teens, including one who had received a text message directly from Smith, shared screen shots of his text messages on Instagram and Snapchat. He then ended his life in September.

Members of Smith's family wanted Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott to investigate and prosecute those who shared the messages, but they had doubts because of Northcott's record of anti-LGBTQ stances. In 2018 he had told a group of ministers that he didn't recognize what he called "homosexual marriage" and that he would not prosecute county clerks who declined to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He also said he wouldn't bring domestic violence charges in cases involving same-sex couples, although he would bring a lesser charge of simple assault.

Northcott released a statement Tuesday saying there will be no criminal charges related to Smith's death. "Upon the completion of the full investigation into the circumstances of Channing Smith's death by the Coffee County Sheriff's Department and this office and after a review of the criminal statutes of this state, I have determined that there is not probable cause to believe that any crimes have been committed in this tragic situation," he said, according to The Tennessean of Nashville. "Thus no criminal charges or juvenile petitions will be sought by this office. The family remains in my prayers, and I hope that all of Channing's friends and family can find peace in this difficult time."

Smith's family members are blaming the law rather than Northcott personally.

"Supposedly there's not laws in place that affect minors, and harassment and bullying have to show a pattern," Channing's brother Joshua Smith told The Tennessean. "Hopefully we can get more modern laws in place. My main concern is it's going to send a mixed message to these kids that they can do what they want and there's not repercussions."

The family will advocate for laws regarding bullying, especially cyberbullying, he added. "We need to start with some current laws that are very defined and that can be interpreted so, when something happens, a DA doesn't have to spend 30 or 45 days trying to figure out how to interpret it, what to do, or what he can do," he told Nashville TV station WZTV.

Joshua Smith and his father, David Smith, met with First Lady Melania Trump at the White House this week to discuss bullying, as she has launched a campaign to address the problem. Also attending was country music star Billy Ray Cyrus, whose daughter Miley Cyrus identifies as pansexual and is an activist for LGBTQ rights. He had helped to arrange the meeting, and he later wrote of the first lady on Instagram, "I was blown away by your vision to make this world a safer and better place for the youth of America." In her own Instagram post, Trump wrote, "Teaching positive online behaviors can ensure a safer future for our children."

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at (877) 565-8860. LGBTQ youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. You can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 can be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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