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Mother of Teen Who Died by Suicide Says School Failed to Help Him

Nigel Shelby

Nigel Shelby's mother says school officials told him being gay was a choice, and they knew he intended suicide but did not intervene.

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The mother of a gay Alabama teen who died by suicide in April says that not only was he bullied at school, but administrators knew he intended to take his own life and did not intervene.

"After my son passed, I learned that he had several discussions about homosexuality with school administrators and was told that being gay was a choice," Camika Shelby, mother of Nigel Shelby, said in a statement released by her attorneys Monday, NBC News reports. "I was never contacted by the school and informed that my son was struggling with his sexual identity and regularly having discussions with a school administrator."

Nigel Shelby, a 15-year-old freshman at Huntsville High School, died April 18. His mother said that shortly after his death, she received a call from a school official who told her to look for a suicide note in his backpack.

"People at his school knew that he planned to take his own life," Camika Shelby told NBC. "I need to find out who knew and why nobody told me until after he died."

She has hired two attorneys specializing in civil rights cases to look into the circumstances surrounding Nigel's death. "As civil rights leaders, we have a duty to ensure all of our children are safe in school and treated with equality, and that educators address and guide children struggling with gender and racial identity issues in a positive and loving way that benefits the growth of the child," attorneys Benjamin Crump and Jasmine Rand said in a joint statement.

They added that it was not appropriate for school officials to have such extensive discussions with Nigel about his sexuality without involving his mother or mental health professionals. He was out to his mother and was being treated for depression.

"Clearly [school administrators] did not do what is right by Nigel because he is not here today," Rand told NBC Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Huntsville City Schools District said there had been no complaints about bullying or harassment of Nigel. The district "will work with Shelby and her attorneys to answer questions they may have and to correct any misunderstandings or misinformation, to the extent possible," spokesman Keith Ward told NBC.

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.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.