Jamel Myles, 9, of Denver, Colorado, told his mother something very important over the summer: that he was gay.
Jamel told his mother, Leia Pierce, from the back seat while the two were driving in their car together.
“He looked so scared when he told me,” Pierce explained. “He was like, 'Mom I'm gay.' And I thought he was playing, so I looked back because I was driving, and he was all curled up, so scared. And I said, 'I still love you.'”
Jamel felt confident about telling his peers about himself when the school year started.
“He went to school and said he was going to tell people he's gay because he's proud of himself,” Pierce said.
But just four days into the school year, Pierce found her son dead in the house, a victim of an apparent suicide.
The fourth-grader was bullied by his classmates after revealing his sexuality to them, according to the mother, who learned about the bullying from Jamel’s older sister.
“Four days is all it took at school. I could just imagine what they said to him,” Pierce said. “My son told my oldest daughter the kids at school told him to kill himself. I'm just sad he didn't come to me.”
Sadly, the bullying and the harassment that gay and lesbian students face in schools isn’t abnormal. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for individuals ages 10-24, and gay and lesbian youth are almost five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.
Some have made attempts to speak out against bigots and bullies who exemplify anti-gay attitudes and beliefs. But more must be done to prevent tragedies of this nature from continuing.
Schools must make it clear that bullying will not be tolerated in their hallways — and then follow through when students engage in the action. On the other end, students must be made aware that options exist to address harassment in their schools and that if they have thoughts of harming themselves, there are counselors and other trusted individuals with whom they can speak.
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