Jamel Myles was a 9-year-old child from Colorado who committed suicide four days into the 2018-19 school year as a result of bullying at school after coming out as gay to his family and classmates. This is his story.
Suicide, bullying, death.
The following is a true story about the loss of an extremely young LGBTQ child that took place at the beginning of the current school year. About Magazine cautions readers who may have suffered from any of the above keywords in our content warning that this piece may be disturbing, unsettling, and triggering. Reader discretion is advised.
DENVER — There is no nice way to begin this article. A nine-year-old boy named Jamel Myles committed suicide at the beginning of this school year, and homophobia is to blame.
Over the summer Jamel, a young child who liked Pokemon and YouTube videos, came out to his family as gay. His family members responded well, particularly his mother who immediately affirmed her unconditional support of her young son, reassuring him “I still love you.” In terms of coming out at home, Jamel was actually quite lucky. Though coming out can be frightening and dangerous for most, matters at home continued satisfactorily. With the encouragement of his family bolstering him up, Jamel began the new school year with a tender flame of excitement. He was ready to start the fourth grade, and he was ready to come out to his classmates, too.
Jamel Myles was relentlessly bullied for four days before he took his own life. Within that short span of time before his death, Jamel had confided in his older sister about what was happening at school. The other kids at his Colorado elementary school had been mocking and insulting him for his sexuality, he told her, with some of his classmates even telling him that he should kill himself. Jamel did not share his bullying with his mother, which she now deeply regrets. She didn’t know that the bullying was taking place until it was too late.
The death of any child is particularly tragic. Children, with their tiny bodies and missing teeth, have not yet developed the cognition to understand the permanence of their actions, nor that of death. Indeed, their brains haven’t yet developed enough to comprehend the finality of their behavior and that of another’s life. They do not realize that there is not another chance, that there is no way to go back. Young boys are particularly in danger, perhaps because of poor impulse control or increased risk-taking behavior. Jamel is one part of an increasing percentage of youth suicides that are plaguing America.
By the same token, it can seem chilling that children so young can bully another student literally to death. Could the prepubescent bullies have truly encouraged a little boy to end his own life? Did they understand the consequences of their words? Perhaps most importantly, do they realize now what they have done wrong?
Although my initial reaction to the news of Jamel’s death was shock and horror, another part of me is now just angry. I am angry that this happened to a child in the year 2018. I am angry that so many adults around me believe that the struggle for LGBT rights ended in 2015 with marriage equality. I am angry that adults are so blind to how their behavior perpetuates despicable prejudice for the next generation. Although, even as I felt the shock of it all when I first learned of Jamel’s death, that same part of me that was so furious understood exactly how this happened.
All it takes are a few intolerant parents. Maybe one of his classmates came from a family of hellfire-and-brimstone Baptists, and that classmate heard every Sunday about how homosexuality is a moral failure that comes directly from Satan. I know that I certainly heard that enough times growing up not all that long ago. Or maybe one of Jamel’s classmates came from a family where the classmate’s dad, upon seeing two men holding hands, would mutter under his breath about how being gay just ‘ain’t right.’ I heard that growing up, too. Or maybe this classmate didn’t have particularly political parents and just heard it on a Christian radio station, or on a Fox News debate, or on some kind of “family values” advertisement, or driving by a protest. Our world drops reminders, both subtle and overt, that gay people are still very much *not* accepted by a large percentage of this country. There are infinite ways that a child can learn to hate.
So these children absorb tiny cues over and over again, about how to hold prejudice against LGBT individuals. Then these children actually meet a gay person. After nine or ten years of homophobic osmosis, they are ripe with insults and Bible verses and hate speech slogans. One or two children lead the charge, and the rest who don’t know any better but want to be popular and mean-spirited for a laugh join in, too. Four days later, a little boy dies.
People on the internet took to asking, “How could he even know he was gay? He was only 9.” Of course, they never ask that question of straight children, nor do they ask, “Who taught these children so much hate and prejudice?” exasperatedly followed by “They’re only 9.” The latter question is infinitely more pressing.
To address the death of Jamel Myles and to prevent future youth suicides, adults in America need to have a societal reckoning. This will come as no surprise to actual gay people — I’m preaching to the choir here. But the adults that are apolitical, the people who don’t necessarily agree or disagree with gay rights and don’t care enough to act either way: these are the adults that we need to be fighting. Apathy in the face of injustice is just another form of injustice.
It is not enough to feel indifferent about gay rights. It’s not enough to avoid voting because you believe that it doesn’t affect you. It is not enough to remain silent around homophobic people, even if you don’t agree with them. We each have a responsibility to stick up for LGBT people actively, every single day, every single time an injustice occurs, every single time we hear hate speech. We have a responsibility to teach that sort of love and support to the next generation, too.
If one or two students had stood up for Jamel, if just one of students had parents who had taught them to stick up LGBT people in the face of bullying … could things have ended differently? I think so. I really do think so.
Rest in peace, Jamel Myles.