14-Year-Old Gay Teen Phillip Parker Kills Himself in Tennesee

Phillip and Gena Parker didn’t know their son Phillip was being bullied at school until, it seems, Saturday or Sunday. Probably Saturday night. On Friday, they didn’t know. That was the day they found their 14-year-old son’s dead body in their house. Phillip Parker was in 8th grade at Gordonsville High School in Gordonsville, Tennessee and he had killed himself.

“I should have known something was wrong, but he seemed happy,” said Gena.

On Saturday night, when they gathered to grieve Phillip’s death, Students “bombarded” the parents with information about the bullying. Some kids said they went to teachers about it but nothing was done. “We are going to find out who done it, we are going to get justice for Phillip and you will pay for what you did to my son,” said Phillip’s father.

Ruby Harris, his grandmother, said: “He kept telling me he had a rock on his chest. He just wanted to take the rock off where he could breathe.”

In May, the Tennessee Senate passed a law forbidding discussion of anything gay in schools. Same-sex marriage is illegal in the state’s constitution and LGBTQ people are not protected from employment or housing discrimination.

The parents intend to speak to school representatives on Monday. Today, school officials were given training on how to handle the grieving students they will surely face when classes resume. According to Citydata.com, it is estimated that 0% of Gordonsville households are homosexual men and .4% are homosexual women.

Phillip’s friend Courtney made him a Facebook page to remember their friend. A parent wrote, “Phillip was in my childrens church and he was the funniest kid. I just loved him.”

A girl named Alissa left the following message on his facebook wall: “Me and Phillip were best friends. Like brother and sister. Now he is gone. I am broken. He was always there for me. I love you Phillip. You always put a smile on my face. You always ran up to me gave me a hug and say i love you Alissa. Now you can’t.. :( I will see you one day phillip. I hope heaven is as beautiful as people say it is. I love you.”

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3212 articles for us.


    • Stuff like this just makes me want to wrap you up in a blanket and get you the hell out of there. *sigh*

  1. It’s terrible that it takes something as awful as this for people to start realizing that they need to treat LGBT people better. This is just so unbelievably sad.

  2. how do people not understand that their words and actions have consequences? why does this keep happening? it shouldn’t ever come to this. i’m so sad.

  3. supposedly (well I just learned in class) suicide is one of those things like cutting that becomes a contagion in schools. i think while all the news about these things is helping some to see that there is a problem that needs fixing (though clearly not enough people are seeing this or doing anything about it), I think it’s actually (in my little opinion) a contributing factor to the fact that there’s so many deaths, and particularly so many in a short space of time. I think the all the love and sympathy these kids get after they kill themselves is a stronger message to kids than messages saying it gets better. bottom line: everything surrounding these suicides is terrible and we need to make our voices stronger than all the negative messages.

      • I agree so much. Even in 2004 I was taught in health class about a 40% suicide attempt rate among queer kids, higher among trans kids. I don’t really believe there was a sudden epidemic of queer kid suicides in 2010, just a sudden outpouring of media coverage.

    • Seeing it in the news like it has been more recently doesn’t put the idea in their head. It is already there. But it might make it more realistic to them.

      • Whether or not media coverage impacts suicide rates is quite an interesting debate.

        Here, in Australia suicides go unreported in the media and there are strict guidelines with regards to what can be divulged in the media.
        ( http://www.presscouncil.org.au/document-search/release-suicide-standards/?LocatorFormID=677&FromSearch=1 )
        It’s still such a taboo subject here and splashing it over print media not at all the done thing.

        Does this silence help prevent suicide? It’s hard to say. It is believed that suicide is currently the highest cause of death in men aged 15-44 and women aged 15-34 (lifeline.org.au), and in my humble opinion thats pretty damn high…. Who knows what will slow it down….

      • I do agree, though I think there are more layers to it.

        In my experience, seeing someone else give up the fight can inspire a lot of anger/jealousy. “If *they* gave up, why the hell do *I* have to keep living?” “*They* looked amazing and had supportive friends. I don’t have any of that… what chance do I have?”

        But shoot, if someone’s in the wrong mindset for it, an ‘It Gets Better’ video could push them towards suicide.

  4. I don’t have words. I just have sadness and anger and other things I can’t place. This is insanity. Just, why?

  5. I was just listening to Monica’s Angel of Mine because American Idol just had a contestant sing it. I wanted to relive 6/7th grade because now the negative memories have faded.

  6. Crying. I never have any words when I see these headlines. I’m just so sad. How do we fix the world?

  7. God, this is so fucking sad. I feel like we really need to stop with this message, often delivered through “It Gets Better” videos, that everything will be okay if you can just make it out of your homophobic/gay-erasing town and move to a big gay city like NY or LA. We need to reach out to youth RIGHT NOW WHERE THEY ARE in their fucked up locales. There need to somehow be role models for rural/southern LGBTQ kids, so that things can get better for them right where they are. We shouldn’t have to feel trapped in our towns, at least not due to our sexual orientation or gender identity…

    jesus, that quote from his grandmother is so fucking accurate.

    • yep, the quote from his grandmother was one of the most heartbreaky things about the whole heartbreaky article/situation.

    • I don’t have a problem with giving kids hope with things like “It Gets Better,” but you’re damn right we can’t stop there.

      I was one of these kids. I lived, and it got better, a lot better… but every time one of our own gives up hope, 14-year-old me remembers what it felt like.

      I hate that kids have to die before the non-allied world will even consider that maybe, just maybe, hating gays causes problems. :(

  8. This is just reaching a point of numbness for me. A boy from my old school district just commited suicide as well as a queer youth on an LGBT message board I’ve been frequenting. It is so sad and terrible, and I’m trying to do the best I can to support the people I know. I’m so sad for all the beautiful people I may never get to meet.

  9. This is unfortunately sad, yet it happens more frequently than anyone realizes or wants to admit. Personally, I came out in high school, in the early nineties, and was ridiculed to the extreme. I attempted suicide at 17, and thank God I didn’t suffered.
    I don’t think (for most) lgbt is chosen, we are born as we are intended to be. It is a hard life and path to travel. I once wished I was straight and normal”; I wanted my dad to walk me down the aisle, a house with a fenced backyard and a dog, wanted two children, etc. all of the normal hetero things. then I realized I could have all of those things AND be with a woman. I didn’t need a man to fulfill those wants and needs. My dad could still give me away, I could still be a mom, I could have what I dreamt of and be okay with being gay.
    It took a long time and personal struggles to understand all of this (and more) I attempted suicide, struggled with addiction, and had a string of bad relationships. Today, I am a happy, sober, single mom, and am comfortable and secure with my sexuality. I’ve told my “story” many times, hoping that it may provide hope and strength to those who have little.
    (and why do people on this site use fuck so frequently? There are better words to use; it makes people sound uneducated)

    • Before you go around offending other people by suggesting they’re uneducated maybe you should take a look at your own comments?

      “and thank God I didn’t suffered.” – pardon?

      ” I once wished I was straight and normal”” – what exactly are you quoting?

      Have a nice day.

    • It should have been succeed, not suffered. Auto correcting phone (incorrect, though). I didn’t say anyone was uneducated, simply said it makes people sound uneducated. I say fuck myself, just not frequently. When I use profanity, I think I sound uneducated, as there are much better words I could have chosen.
      It’s interesting that no one commented on the majority of my post, but two replied regarding my comment about fuck.

      • Profanity is just a vulgar way to express yourself, not necessarily a less valid one. It doesn’t mean you don’t know other words, it just means you chose not to, and people often choose stronger words for strong feelings (such as in this case of such a sad and angering event).

        P.S. Watch some Deadwood and you won’t even notice the word any more.

  10. This was my nephew and although I appreciate you reporting this you might want to check your facts. His father’s name is Phillip not Paul, I should know he is my brother.

  11. Yesterday at work, I was stunned and silent when a co worker told me that Uganda and Ethiopia had the “right idea” when it came to dealing with “the gay problem” The right idea being, 3 years imprisonment or death.

    This morning I woke up and read this.

    I am so sorry Philip Parker.

    It’s that mentality that is killing us.

  12. I want to print all these stories and show them to the people convinced that the equality movement is a selfish push for a minority political agenda. There are people who find life so painful they. kill. themselves.

    It personal and real and so completely unacceptable. Yeah we care about equal protection under the law, but we care more about kids whose lives are a living hell.

  13. The ability to feel deeply can sometimes be a blessing, but mostly it’s … oh fuck it.. I just wanna cry. I keep coming back to something I read here on Autostraddle: “It Gets Better is meaningless to kids who can’t see a viable future due to the darkness of the present.” (Just in case Riese doesn’t think her words have an ipact) This is just as true today. The bigoted, hateful and in many cases, religious upbringings of some people has taught them that intolerance and hatred is a value to be celebrated. States are passing “anti-bully” laws with religious loopholes. I’m just so deeply hurt right now. For decades in this country, we have allowed others to keep us quiet about who we are and about how we wish to live our lives. It is time for us to wake the fuck up and realize that the longer we allow others to dictate who we are, the longer this will continue. It’s 4:30 in the morning in NJ and I got up to go running. I’ve decided to stay in bed and cry some more..It’s just so sad

  14. My little sister is 14 years old, she is a child, children should not have these kind of things happen to them ever, no matter what kind of child they happen to be. It should be a major crime for school officials to ignore bullying so people will stop thinking they can do this. This is like when my friend had an addiction in High School and I told a councilor,she did absolutely nothing…

  15. At fourteen kids shouldn’t be thinking about killing themselves… My heart breaks a little more every time I see another of these stories, my heart goes out to his friends, family and all the other kids who feel like they are in the same boat…

  16. Omigod, not another one… I feel like crying again =( How could the teachers have just stood by? People were reaching out to help Phillip, and those who had the most power turned a blind eye. This is so heartbreaking…

    • Maybe this will stir things up at the senate, and get them to re-think that absurd “law” of theirs. Hopefully, Phillip’s death will not have been in vain, tragic as it is. :(

  17. I don’t want to sound like an asshole but I was just wondering…..is it only/mostly gay men that are killing themselves? And the girls? I wonder what this means….

    • I don’t think you sound like an asshole. Or at least, I was thinking about the same question earlier today, so if you’re an asshole then I am one too.

      There’s some research by Suicide Prevention Australia on glbtiq youth suicide that showed an marked increase in suicidality amongst both young queer men AND women. If memory serves, young bisexual women were the most likely to attempt out of all the identity groups they surveyed*. So I suspect the difference might be that gay men are more likely to die as a result of attempting suicide. Queer women attempt but they aren’t ‘successful’ as frequently. This would be consistent with the general tendency for suicide attempts made by men to result in death; women attempt but die less frequently, largely because men tend to choose more violent / effective methods of suicide.

      The Suicide Prevention Australia website is down right now so I might find it for you later if you’re interested. Idk, I’m beginning to feel a little uneasy about so much analysis in a post that is about mourning and memory, so I’m going to wrap this up here.

      *Pretty sure this is right but it’s been a while since I read the report.

      • ^Pretty much this. Across the board, men are far more likely to have ‘successful’ suicide attempts whereas women are more likely to attempt suicide and not succeed.

      • thank you, i’ll wait for your analysis.
        (actually by asshole i meant to say exactly what you said in the end: that i don’t mean to sound inconsiderate or unemotional for the death of this young boy in particular)

    • In autumn 2010 I read an article in a newspaper in my country, the Netherlands, where it was reported that 13% of homosexual men attempted suicide and 13.5% of homosexual women. Noted was the fact that 1 in 13 attempts succeed. The researchers couldn’t find an explanantion for the difference.
      I don’t have figures for bisexual or trans* people but I doubt it is lower.

      Reports have been published that bisexual people generally have a worse health condition than homosexual people and it is known trans* people are even worse off. Maybe later this year we will know more about trans* people as research is currently being done.

      And that is the Netherlands where marriage has been opened up to people of the same sex and where the struggle for equal rights is mostly complete (but education is still a big job that needs to be done).

  18. Fuck. I’m a Tennessean, studying to be a school counselor, and it just really hit home that under Don’t Say Gay I will be subjected to review and fired if I mention homosexuality while trying to help these kids.

    Not to mention that they’re now passing a an exception to the anti-school-bullying act where it’s okay to voice your opinion if you’re “expressing your religious or political beliefs”. (Faggots Go To Hell is considered a religious belief where I’m from)

    I’m torn between staying in TN to try to make things better and getting the hell out.

    • Stay. If you can handle it, stay. These kids who are stuck in homophobic schools and towns and states need someone to help them NOW. Not just a promise that it will get better in 4 or 5 years. 4 or 5 years is a really fucking long time when you’re 14 years old and feel like the world hates you just for existing.

    • Stay if you can… for as long as you can do any good. At least if you get fired under “don’t say gay” you won’t have a problem finding work somewhere else…

      No one can demand that you put yourself in the kind of uncomfortable position you’re looking at with this career in this time and place, but it’s true you have an opportunity to help. If even one kid talks to you and doesn’t commit suicide, you’re a hero forever.

  19. I wish Phillip’s classmates had “bombarded” his parents before he felt like death was the only way out of the harmful situation he was in. But it’s not just their fault. I’m REALLY angry at the ineffective administration that CHOSE to ignore one of their students’ needs and let a child continue to be bullied. I can’t even imagine how Phillip must’ve felt–to have the adults that are supposed to protect you turn their back on you–and NOT A SINGLE PERSON deserves to have that happen to them. And the fact that it was codified in law just pisses me off anymore.

    RIP Phillip, and may you feel the love that so many (especially your fellow queers) have for you. <3

  20. There’s one more kid that will never go to school never get to fall in love never get to be cool. Neil Young

  21. This is fucking tragic. I just want to round up all of the sad teen gays and have a big snugglefest in a nice place, like Narnia or Oz or Canada.

  22. Hi there,

    I’m so sad.
    And it makes me think a lot about responsibility.
    So like we as members of the lgbt community can point our fingers at his schoolmates, who told the parents about the bullying afterwards.
    We can point the fingers at the parents maybe, cause they didn’t notice what was going on.
    We can point the fingers at the teachers who did nothing to protect this kid.
    Well, at the end of the day a lot of things went wrong.
    But I ask myself: What can we do? We, who were or are just like that kid?
    Is all we can do to point our fingers at others afterwards?
    I think we have a huge responsibility as well: We need to portray our lives as good lives, we sould not hide in society, we should be there for queer youth, we should talk with others (ignorants, haters) about our problems in society to make gays and lesbians and bis and transgender people more visible.
    We, as the grown ups, should be an example.
    I think the fight for our rights is not over and I think it never will be. But we have to stand up for it. For ourselves and for all the queer kids out there.
    When the parents don’t do it nor the teachers, we have to.

    • I agree with most of what you said, but sometimes it’s not so simple.
      For example, I work in a school, but I’m not out to my students or my coworkers. Because I could get fired if I was.
      Is it better to stay in the closet and help as many students as I can, or come out to be “an example” and risk being fired? I constantly struggle with this.

      I include GLBT topics in my programming as often as I can and I don’t allow bullying in my classroom, but when it comes to being out, I think I can help more students in the long run by not being out there.

      If the GLBT community spent as much time and money on passing employment non-discrimination laws as it does marriage equality, I think it would help more students, because more teachers in these states would be able to come out safely.

      • Hi Emma,

        I get what you say. And I totally understand when someone can’t be out at work. I couldn’t be out at work like 8 years ago, I know how it feels. I#m in a really comfortable position now that I can be authentic at work and not lose my job. For sure that’s difficult and to me it’s not primarily necessary.
        If I had a child and you would be his/her teacher I’d be so glad and thankful for you cause you discuss GLBT topics in the classroom, not many teachers do so, I know. But you do it without being out at work, I am really thankful for your courage, you know.
        But what I meant were those GLBT people who always keep their mouthes shut. Who want the world to change but are not doing anything for it.
        For example in private life when meeting new people and the topic “relationship” comes up… many gays and lesbians tend to not answer those quetions, they try to avoid them for not having to come out to strangers.
        Or f.e. when you go to your sports club and have a chat with others about the latest movie and the other women say stuff like “Oh, I love Ryan Gosling/George Clooney/Tom Cruise in that movie, he’s so sexy bla bla!”
        Most lesbians just don’t say anything to that and avoid that coming out moment. Like they don’t have an opinion at all!
        Instead they could easily respond “Yeah, he’s cool but I prefer Julianne Moore/Emma Stone/Evan Rachel Wood bisexual…”
        something like that, you know what I mean?
        Instead those GLBT people stay invisible and inresponsible for their rights on a private basis.

        (sorry for false grammar, american english is not my first language)

    • Thank you for that video response. The courage to put your face with your words given issues with your extended family says a lot about you. It was a great message.

  23. I still can’t comprehend how children can be so cruel, and some “responsible adults” (teachers/administrators) can let bullying happen in their schools. :(

  24. When legislation says “this intrinsic part of you is wrong and may not be spoken of” is it any surprise that bullying follows? How many people does a law have to harm before the right people realize it’s unjust.

  25. I think two things reading this.

    1. When being gay makes you feel so lonely that “the gay suicides” feels like the only place you belong, your country needs to sort its shit out and fix up. Futile to say, important to keep saying.

    2. ‘One bad night I’ll hold the glass until the glass can hold me down
    And one bad night I’ll spill and spill until my feet begin to drown
    And one bad night I’ll hear you calling me to help you not pass out

    You and I divide but not devout
    Every night my teeth are falling out’

  26. This needs to stop. This country needs to learn that LGBTQ issues need to be discussed and that letting LGBTQ people have the same rights will not negatively impact the lives of others. Unfortunately, the restraining of these rights has produced an impact more negative than it could have been. I feel terrible for the family and I fucking hope that we learn from this. Too many kids have taken their lives already.

  27. Oh and another thing that seems futile to say but important to keep saying:
    Please don’t kill yourself. I barely knew this girl in my class who killed herself, and I still miss her, and I see things and think “she will never see this.” She never saw the perfect moment when Emma Thompson was on QI, she never saw this one time when it snowed and it was sunny at the same time, she never saw our teachers happy baby daughter come into class, she never saw her brother start school.
    Those rare little days where everything goes well are worth 10,000,000 of the shits days. Every person who makes you crack a little smile is worth 100,000,000 of the dicks who ruin your day. Stick around for the good days.

  28. Tomorrow I’m supposed to go into school and do a presentation on the It Gets Better project and and tell them what they want to har: how it’s been such a great improvement to the lives of gay kids and there are no more suicides. (Unsurprisingly all the other students and teacher are straight [to my knowledge].)

    I can’t. I just can’t. I am going to get up in front of my class and tell them that a young gay man named Phillip Parker killed himself. And that it does not always get better.

  29. I don’t want to place blame on the teachers because I obviously don’t know the whole story here but if any adult in that school knew what was happening to this boy and did nothing, SHAME on them. I don’t understand how anyone can see a child suffering and not try to help, but especially not those who have chosen to work with children and therefore (supposedly) care about them.

    The saddest part of this is that it seems like Phillip’s parents knew he was gay and were supportive. If he’d told them, perhaps they could have helped him. Maybe that’s the real message we need to get out to kids who are being bullied – TELL. Tell an adult and if that adult doesn’t help you, tell another one. Just keep telling until you find someone who can/will help.

  30. These stories break my heart, every time. I was almost one of these kids; I remember what it felt like. The bullying was only part of the story. Other pieces were that I felt like there was something wrong with me – after all, everyone said so, that being gay was bad and disgusting. And I was afraid, not just of bullying, but of the very real violence that was a constant threat if I was too out or obvious or looked at someone the wrong way.

    And I was afraid because other people who were outed – no one came out on purpose – were assaulted, sometimes badly injured, threatened with death.

    So we call all that, when we mix it up together, “bullying.” It’s a lot more, though. Yes, the queer kids are targeted by bullies, and the administration does nothing, and in this case the whole fucking state makes it illegal for anyone to talk about being gay in a non-negative way, which only makes it worse. But it’s even bigger than that; as long as whether or not we’re full human beings is a matter for public discussion, and politicians can compare us to child molesters and devil worshipers and animal rapists without losing elections, how are vulnerable kids supposed to feel about being gay?

    It breaks my heart, every time one of these kids dies.

  31. Pingback: Addio Phillip Parker, suicida a causa di omofobia e discriminazione | OKGAY

  32. Stumbled across this article whilst googling myself. I have the same name (even down to the spelling), I am also gay, and in 8th grade, I was also suicidal. It’s.. shocking. Startling, to say the least, to realize that this could have been me. Or anyone else, for that matter. Bullying is a serious problem. Every child faces it, regardless of sexual orientation or not. And oftentimes, it’s worse for us kids with different sexual orientations. This isn’t an easily fixed problem. No matter what laws are passed, it will continue. It’s up to us to stop it. Stand up kids. Don’t give up. Don’t lay down and die, don’t let them put you in your grave. Fight if you have to. This is a call to arms. Do not give up. It gets better, trust me. Please, just keep moving. Keep living, and never, ever give in.

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