Alabama Officer Suspended For Homophobic Comments About Teen Who Died By Suicide

A sheriff’s deputy from Alabama has been placed on administrative leave after making homophobic comments about a teen who died by suicide in a Facebook post on Sunday. Madison County Deputy Jeff Graves commented on an Alabama TV station’s Facebook post that was raising awareness of the bullying of LGBTQ people following the death of 15-year-old Nigel Shelby, reported. In the post that has since been deleted, Graves wrote that he was “seriously offended” by the LGBTQ movement.

"Liberty. Guns. Bible. Trump. BBQ. That’s my kind of LGBTQ,” Graves’ post read. “Society cannot and should not accept this behavior. I have a right to be offended and will always be offended by this fake movement which requires no special attention but by persons with an altered ego and fake agenda.”

In a statement on Twitter, the sheriff’s office confirmed that complaints were made about Graves’ Facebook post. On Tuesday, they announced that Graves had been placed on administrative leave “pending the outcome of the audit.” “The Madison County Sheriff’s Office responds promptly to allegations of misconduct by any of its employees,” the department wrote, adding that the misconduct investigation follows established procedure for officials.

Shelby, who was Black, was a freshman at Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Alabama and reportedly died by suicide after being bullied for his sexual orientation, according to a Facebook post by nonprofit LGBTQ center Rocket City Pride Alabama.

“We are heartbroken over the death of Nigel Shelby....Nigel took his life because he was bullied for being gay. There are no words that can be said to make sense of this devastating news,” the center wrote on Saturday. A fundraiser was launched to help pay for Shelby’s funeral expenses and has raised over $30,000 in the past four days. A vigil will be held on Saturday by Birmingham Black Pride and BLK Pearl.

Tony D. Christon-Walker, the director of prevention and community partnerships at AIDS Alabama and the co-founder of Birmingham Black Pride, told The North Star an officer like Graves could not be trusted — particularly when it comes to protecting people of color and the LGBTQ community. “You are in charge of protecting the community and if you’re hurting the community with homophobic comments or in any other way, this does not need to be your job,” Christon-Walker said of the deputy.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for LGBTQ people between ages 10 to 24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. LGBTQ youths are four times more likely to attempt suicide, engage in self-harm, or experience suicidal thoughts than heterosexual people of the same age, according to the organization.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. ​

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.