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LGBTQ students speak out about bullying, mental health in wake of Huntsville student's suicide

Students find their voices to speak out in wake of tragedy.

Posted: Apr 25, 2019 4:51 PM
Updated: Apr 26, 2019 9:17 PM

In the wake of Nigel Shelby's suicide, it's given more teens strength to come forward about bullying and their struggles with mental health. 

Nigel Shelby, 15, was an openly gay teen at Huntsville High School. Shelby's family told WAAY 31 he was bullied, and he struggled with depression before taking his own life last week. Florence City Schools confirmed Shelby previously attended Florence City Schools before transferring to Huntsville.

Wednesday night, the Shoals Diversity Center hosted a meeting with LGBTQ students and counselors to express their feelings on Shelby's suicide. Savannah Watson, an LGBTQ student at Florence High School, said they are one of the most vulnerable groups, and an open discussion needs to be had across the board on bullying, suicide and depression.

"The thing about it is mental health is not something you can chart or measure based on how they are acting at school. You can't look at someone and tell whether they are depressed or anxious, or even worse, about to do it that very night. This is something that has to be addressed more often," said Watson.

Watson and other LGBTQ teens shared their stories of being bullied, mostly because of their sexual orientation. Watson told WAAY 31, just this week, while walking to lunch, she had a bullying encounter.

"It's very obvious that I am a queer student. I am very out about that, and this one white boy decided to yell a slur as soon as I walked passed," said Watson. "We need to be more aware about the impact bullying, slurs and harsh words can have."

Watson said, sometimes, they report bullying incidents and other times they don't, because they fear nothing will be done.

"There aren't policies in place that heavily target that sort of harassment, because they count bullying once it happens multiple times. It only takes one time to really hurt someone," said Watson.

We took these concerns to Florence City Schools Superintendent Jimmy Shaw. He said they take bullying claims very seriously and fully investigate every incident reported to them. In most cases, they will even pull surveillance video from the school's cameras to see if an allegation can be backed up with proof.

"Either you get an allegation, and as an administrator investigates, we find, sometimes, it's a two way street," said Shaw. "Yes, there have been some incidents that happened, but sometimes, the reporter has done some things on the backside and then you have a student resolution conflict issue."

Shaw said, other times, they get reports that things have happened outside of the school system, and that's when they call Florence police. Shaw said, when they can prove a student is bullying others, that student will face punishment.

"It doesn't have to happen multiple times for us to address it, but often times, it's not as clear cut as people think," said Shaw.

Parents who spoke with WAAY 31 said they would like to see Florence City Schools and other school districts have more sensitivity training for administrators and teachers, as well. Shaw said every administrator has an open door policy with students and parents.

Nigel Shelby's funeral service will be on Saturday.

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