The family of Nigel Shelby, a 14-year-old who took his life after he was repeatedly bullied over being gay, will file a lawsuit against the Huntsville Board of Education.
Attorneys Ben Crump, co-counsel Jasmine Rand, local counsel Lynn Sherrod, and David J. Johns, Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition, will host a virtual news conference on April 13, 2021, where they will discuss the filing of the lawsuit, spurred by Nigel’s grieving parents.
In the suit, Nigel’s family claims their son’s civil rights were violated prior to his death in 2019. The lawsuit comes almost two years to the date of the day he took his life.
“Fourteen-year-old Nigel Shelby was bullied by his peers for his race and sexual orientation, and when he sought help from school administrators, was told that his sexuality was his choice,” reads a statement sent to NewsOne announcing the suit. “School administrators did not alert Nigel’s parents of his struggles in school so that he could receive help from a licensed mental health professional. On April 18, 2019, Nigel Shelby died by suicide. Following his death, school administrators alerted Nigel’s mother to look for a suicide note in his backpack, revealing that they were aware of his plans to take his own life.”
“Nigel’s death influenced a national conversation about bullying and elevated the need for acceptance relating to race and sexuality among adolescents,” the statement continues. “As the nation’s only civil rights organization working at the intersections of racial equity and LGBTQ+ equality, NBJC stands with the family of Nigel Shelby and in support of Black LGBTQ+ students everywhere.”
According to AL.com, Huntsville City Schools authorities issued a statement last month saying they anticipated a suit would be filed soon and could not comment on pending legal matters, but stressed that schools will continue to provide resources to students in need.
“Consistent with the district’s Core Values, HHS has a strong Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in place to provide support to LGBTQ+ students, and the district has partnered with GLSEN and the Anti-Defamation League to support its schools and students.”
The statement also urged students to speak with school officials if they were contemplating suicide.
Many were grieved and struck by Nigel’s sudden death, particularly Black members of the LGBTQ+ community who were targets of the same bullying, ostracization and violence that Nigel faced coming of age as youth.
After her son’s death Nigel’s mother Camika Shelby garnered the strength to speak out, cautioning against remembering him only in terms of suicide.
“I don’t want him to be remembered as a kid that was bullied for being gay and took his own life. He was sunshine. He was such a good spirit to have around. It breaks my heart because I feel like he had so much love to give,” she told NBC News.
In June of 2019 she voiced that the school withheld important information in terms of her son, hindering her abilities to provide him with a safe space as his parent.
“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,” she said. “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.”