26-Year-Old Joseph Jefferson Didn’t Kill Himself Because of Gay Bullying. Neither Did Raymond Chase.

The New York Times has an insightful piece today about Joseph Jefferson, the 26-year-old gay Brooklyn community activist who committed suicide in October. Before hanging himself, Jefferson left a message on his Facebook wall which read: “I could not bear the burden of living as a gay man of color in a world grown cold and hateful towards those of us who live and love differently than the so-called mainstream.”

But his case was decidedly different than the string of publicized suicides that had occurred just prior — Jefferson was older, for one thing. But also, Joseph Jefferson graduated from New York City’s Harvey Milk High School in 2002, the nation’s first public school for gay and lesbian youth. He worked in HIV prevention and outreach for Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) and People of Color in Crisis (POCC), and, as The Times points out, “Two successful gay black men for whom he worked came to consider him a son, offering him help, their ear or money when he needed it.” Nobody is safe from the impact of racism and homophobia’s intersectionality, but the causality implied by his Facebook message was confusing to those who knew him best:

The Facebook message, then, left many of Mr. Jefferson’s friends bewildered. “He didn’t speak about being oppressed,” said Symba Soler, 22, who briefly worked with Mr. Jefferson at Gay Men of African Descent. “Bullying has nothing to do with this, and that’s what I want the world to know. Joseph has never been bullied.”

We had similar feelings about Joseph Jefferson’s suicide — he had a gay support system and peers, he had a community, and he didn’t just participate in outreach programs — he led them. But he still could no longer bear the burden of being a gay person of color in a “world grown cold.” Obviously we pointed out that this means we have to change the world and that you all should get on that.

His friends recalled that Jefferson had recently had been having a hard time in a relatively benign way — he’d just started a new job, bills were piling up and he was having some relationship problems. According to a friend, Jefferson had attempted suicide before by overdosing on pills in 2008, but most of his friends and family didn’t know about it. Jefferson was known to suffer bouts of depression in the fall, the season in which his mother died in 2001.

Michael Robertson, a gay activist who considered Jefferson his godson, told the Times that “for any gay black man, homophobia is never not part of the conversation. The message that we get from the black church is that we are an abomination. I know he felt that.”

Jefferson felt that from his family, too:

Mr. Jefferson’s stepmother, Renee Brown-Worrell, said that Mr. Jefferson’s father “never fully accepted that part” of his son’s life. Mr. Jefferson was an H.I.V. outreach worker who kept his own H.I.V.-positive status a secret from his own father and stepmother; a youth advocate who educated others about health services, but did not, so far as his loved ones know, avail himself of the services he needed when he suffered from depression.

Experts say the two main risk factors for suicide are depression and a prior suicide attempt. He had both. But answers remain hard to find:

Mr. Jefferson, like so many people, was a whole made up of contradictions: alternatively joyful and distraught; a man living in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, “who could look like a thug with his do-rag,” by one friend’s account, but who loved Beyoncé and Britney; someone who encouraged others to seek help but was too proud — or too closed off — to do so himself.

Raymond Chase, a 19-year-old sophomore at Johnson & Wales University in Providence who killed himself in September wasn’t bullied for his sexuality, either, like the other teenagers making headlines that week — but like Jefferson, his story was often told along with the others, added to a list of “gay bullying victims.”

In The Brown Daily Herald, the heads of JWU’s Pride Alliance confirmed that Ray was “out and proud,” “an awesome person” and “very comfortable about who he was, an openly gay young man.” Nobody who knew Raymond was aware of any threats or bullying.

From The Daily Herald:

Chase was an active member of Pride Alliance, and Newell said she did not think he was harassed for his sexuality. She said media outlets and national groups have lumped Chase together with the other students without understanding his background or story.

“It kind of just made Ray a statistic,” she said. For example, nearly 1.1 million Facebook users have pledged to wear purple on Wednesday in memory of “6 gay boys who committed suicide in recent weeks/months due to homophobic abuse in their homes and at their schools,” intending to include Chase among the September suicide victims.

The last thing you want to hear when you’re searching for answers regarding your loved one’s suicide is that the media already knows why they did it and they’re wrong.

It’s highly unlikely that neither of these men had ever been bullied for being gay. I’d venture to say that it might be impossible that either of these men was never bullied about who they were. But both had done the things you do to get out of those situations — seek safe spaces, make queer friends, get involved in your community. And at least where Raymond Chase is concerned — all the information anyone has is that gay bullying was probably not the reason, and we wouldn’t think that it was if it hadn’t happened exactly when it did.

The stigma experienced by young gay men, especially young gay men of color, is pretty horrific. If bullying wasn’t the cause, it’s still safe to say that sexuality was likely a factor in the lives of Joseph Jefferson and Raymond Chase; that it exacerbated challenges and rose the stakes. But that psychological experience is worth a look in and of itself — how those factors play in to overall mental state. Attributing it to gay bullying shuts down an important conversation.

That being said, it’s good to bring attention to the gay bullying epidemic and the lives it ruins and often ends. But regardless of sexuality, bullying is rarely the only cause. Mental health advocacy is also incredibly important, especially when LGBTQ teens suffer from mental disorders and drug/alcohol addiction at rates higher than the general population and are often the least likely to seek treatment:

Mental disorders are frequently present at the time of suicide with estimates from 87% to 98%. When broken down into type mood disorders are present in 30%, substance abuse in 18%, schizophrenia in 14%, and personality disorders in 13.0% of suicides.

Substance abuse is the second most common cause of death after mood disorders.

With suicide as the third-leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds, many have pointed out that the recent string of gay suicides might not reflect a “gay suicide epidemic” so much as it does a “media coverage of gay suicide” epidemic — albeit a much-needed one, as it raised the profile on this issue tremendously and will hopefully save some lives. As far as we could tell by combing through 11 months of news, the only gay teen suicide reported widely by the mass media in 2010 prior to September was Marie Osmond’s son, who killed himself in March 2010.

So. If 4,500 10-24 year-olds killed themselves in 2009 and 1 in 3 completed suicides is by a homosexual teen (statistics vary on this), that means there were 1,200 or so suicides we never even heard about — and we literally have 4-5 people combing through hundreds of GLBT news stories a day, from sources all over the world.

In fact, there’s been such a dearth of media attention that somebody actually pulled off a Suicide Hoax TO DUPE THE MEDIA, which is maybe one of the WORST THINGS ANYONE COULD EVER DO ON THE INTERNET. Yup! You might remember Terrel Williams, the 17-year-old who hung himself in his closet after being bullied at school?

We got the story from LGBTQ Nation (which provided subsequent updates) and The Advocate (which eagerly headlined this story and then eagerly removed the story from their site without comment when it was proved false) — sources which we rely upon to be reliable (although really if nobody wants to pay for their news sources, then y’all are gonna get what you pay for). It was also on Queerty, which dutifully followed up on the story and first broke the hoax possibility, but it was also on a lot of other websites that never went back and changed “killed himself” to “never existed.” It was a headline one day. One Autostraddler commenter even ended up exchanging emails with Terrel’s alleged boyfriend and we all agreed something wasn’t right here.

In case you’re still wondering what happened with that, LGBTQ Nation has the complete rundown, which ends with this conclusion:

Additional findings over the past 24 hours have led us to conclude that this story is a hoax — the result of internet pranksters with nothing better to do than to fabricate stories about such a serious issue as teen suicides. We won’t comment on this story further so as not to dignify it with any additional attention. We were duped.

Does it matter that these stories weren’t told the way they should have been told by much of the media? Of course. Because the true story is enough, isn’t it? We lost two of our best men. We lost two out, proud, African-American men who were advocates in their community and lived true to themselves. We lost our leaders and we might never know what could’ve been done to keep them with us.

In conclusion, everyone should be really nice to each other. Don’t pull pranks on the internet or make fun of people or yell at anyone. Listen to your friend with all the feelings talk about her feelings for ~20-30 minutes. Tell a family member or friend-so-close-they’re-like-family that you love them. Take a walk and buy someone a bottle of vodka or potato chips or both and then bring them back home. Live.
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If you’re considering suicide please visit The Trevor Project or call 866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.


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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," 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. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

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26 Comments

  1. I feel like the reason a lot of people feeling suicidal don’t talk about their feelings is because they are ashamed of it. I know it to be true for me. I would run the risk of losing my job with the military who would undoubtedly kick me out, which would then cause me to lose everything I have due to lack of money. People I know would not want to be around me because they think that anything they say could “trigger” me and I would therefore kill myself. All of this just because I try to get help/therapy to deal with my undiagnosed depression. It’s an on going battle that nobody but me and people here who have read my comments on Autostraddle know about. I appreciate Autostraddle because I feel like without it I wouldn’t have anybody that knows what I am going through. And duh, you make me laugh. Thank you.

    • i did. he emailed me after i posted my emai asking anyone if they wanted to talkl and he told me that he was terrel’s boyfriend, but when i probed him with more questions, it sounded off, almost like it was rehearsed? idk it was weird. anyways, i emailed laneia and riese because they are my unpaid guidance counselors, and they both agreed that it was all kinds of odd. i blocked “daric rawr”, because i wasn’t even sure it was him, and the whole situation had me feeling skeevy

      • It was probably him. Did he have horrible spelling?

        He is so fake and he admitted it. He writes about himself under multiple pen names. One of the names is Sarah Hudson – see this article where he writes about his “apology.”

        There was woman who goes by “FagHagMom” who tweeted Daric and Terrel a lot. They seemed like friends and she was mentioned in the suicide note.

        It turns out she recorded a series of videos the other day about how full of shit Daric is. Remember Taylor Wallis, Daric’s alleged boyfriend who was murdered? Yeah, here’s a phone call with her and the L.A. County Coroner. There’s no Taylor Wallis either, obviously.

        • i don’t understand why he would do this. i would hate for these teens/young adults real tragedies to be overshadowed by this kind of fuckery. i wont post the actual emails on here because i don’t want to draw anymore attention to this “joke”. brianna send me an email and i’ll send you the exchanges if you’d like. ps. you have sweet nancy drew skills just saying.

          • I would like to see those emails as well. I can send you a ton of things I have collected about him, if you want to see them. He did this because he wanted the attention. He goes all over the web writing stories about himself in different names trying to be a celebrity. His behavior sickens and disgusts me and I really have to question why he would tell people he is a 16 year old boy, when he is a 20 year old man!

            All I know is I feel he has to be stopped before he hurts anyone else. The suicide hoax that he pulled sickens me and I honestly believe that if he will fake a suicide death he is capable of anything.

        • I just found out from Daric Rawr’s publisher yesterday that he is 20 years old, not 16 as he claim’s. I posted the phone call on my youtube page as well. Daric did in fact send me a fake suicide note from Terrel with my name in it and lie to me about everything for the last year and a half. Now he is accusing me of bullying him for revealing the truth about him.

          But I will continue to do so, because I feel that he is a predator who needs to be stopped.

  2. this is going to be so random but i was thinking about this in class. when skins pulled that shrink killing freddie thing, i was mad, because i knew it only added a more negative light on an institution that helps people who are already stigmatized. i don’t consider myself depressed, but i do go through random mood swings especially lately, and i don’t like to tell people because if its not dismissed then i’m told to relax. i’m shamed into not saying anything when i’m sad, and i think, if this were a more serious depression, i’d be fucked. the people i’ve known to have died by suicide in real life were people i thought were genuinely happy or at least not sad. idk idk there should be more talk about this that isn’t sensationalized but still treated seriously, everyone should be educated because i really don’t know. and yeah, be nice people. if you wouldn’t say something in real life, don’t post it.

    • i felt that way too about the Skins storyline — I think I said as much in the recap. I felt that Ilene Chaiken mishandled Jenny’s mental illness similarly and did a disservice to her viewers when the bipolar character is so unbearable and untreatable that her friends actually want to murder her. Like that is fucked up. There is a lot of stigma, especially for men — suicide is the 8th leading cause of death for males and 19th for females.

      • yup, i think its because people think that people use mental illness as an excuse for their behavior, i even thought this at one point. but would you be as quick to say the same thing about someone with some other disease?

  3. I completely understand how you might say that these two men were not “bullied” by a specific person or group of peers / or even in their home as were some of the other recent examples of bullying. But as someone who WAS bullied, mercilessly, and “rose above” it whenever possible (I’m here 20 plus years later), I will tell you that the constant barrage of “you are going to hell” / “you are a scourge” practiced by religious, political and community leaders, FEELS like bullying. Now I don’t give a crap what anyone says today – let the haters rant and rave. I know they have secrets and fears and probably more than 75 percent are covertly queer or queer-curious. But to say these men were not bullied by the waves of homophobia that push against GLBTI youth each day is naive. The article mentions it (black church, father, etc) but it’s pervasive and insidious. Just when you think things are calming down and society at large is starting to chill out – new nutcases get on the tube and start the vitriol. It’s challenging, but seriously . . . seriously, HANG IN THERE PEEPS. For gay god’s sake, there is SO much more cool stuff to come.

    • I think that you’re right in saying that the whole homophobic culture feels very much like bullying, but I do think there is a valid distinction to be made.

      Bullying is where one individual is directly targeted by hateful comments and/or physical or verbal abuse. The perpetrator is culpable for their own actions, and schools, universities and workplaces have a responsibility to provide services for the victims and to work towards stamping out a culture of bullying.

      The culture of homophobia on the other hand is not perpetrated by any one individual but is a problem on the part of society. It is impossible to lay the blame for this culture on any one person and society is incapable of changing itself radically and swiftly. The LGBT community needs to work to eliminate this, and are doing so with each anti-discrimination act, with each prosecution under the act, with each rally for rights, with every public figure who comes out of the closet and with every individual who shows people that their fears and prejudices are ungrounded.

      One symptom of that culture of homophobia is bullying, but by seeing the issues as separate but related issues we can work more effectively towards eliminating bullying and the culture of homophobia which permits and encourages it.

  4. I finally just read this article, due to paper writing and…yeah, i should probably be doing homework right now ^_^

    Nonetheless, as fine as I am with being bi, I think it sucks being bi/gay/lesbian/trans and black. I was talking to another friend of mine about this and it’s as if black LGBT are completely separate from the rest of the LGBT community. In a world where it’s already hard to fit in, I find it especially difficult. And while I have friends and family who love me, it’s still hard. I’m trying to find others who are Black and LGBT, but it’s kinda hard to reach out. There’s the stereotype inside our community that we consistently seem to perpetuate. It’s difficult. Despite this, I highly doubt that i’ll kill myself anytime soon.

    • i feel you on the stereotype bit. so true. especially after entering the queer world beyond college.

      and while i was in college, we, LGBTQ people of color, received a lot of criticism from the community at large for being self-segregators. there was no space for us to talk about issues we experienced with being people of color AND queer (and in some cases, also female). it felt like we had to choose an identity, when in reality these identities are inseparable.

      • @Supernaye and Lady,

        For sure, the space in college and being treated as self-segregators? RIGHT ON.
        Self-segregators for being black, and then even further for being black and queer. My goodness, safe spaces are just filled with all kinds of issues around identity and tolerance. I can’t find too many places to go where I don’t feel like I have to choose between being black and female, and being black and queer. Sooo, you hit the nail right on the head. And still, outside of college, where are the safe spaces for those who aren’t 21 and can’t enter clubs where queer identities are also sexualized? Where’s the widely read, popular online presence for those cross identities?

        • It’s also hard to discuss with people. It’s not a topic that occurs often. I mean, with a majority of the community being non-black, there isn’t that much of a preference for the topic. I tried to bring it up once, but it kinda went off the issue. I’m fine with us discussing other issues that face the LGBT community, but that just showed me that I cant discuss such an issue with individuals who have and will never face that.

          I remember the first club I went to when I was…18, i’m 20 now ^_^ Nonetheless, later on that year, I went to a black gay club. There was more diversity at the other club than there was at the black gay club, which irked me. I wasn’t sure how to react to the place. It was as if you were either a stud/butch or femme. I fit neither and I was under the impression that no one else did, but that’s not the feeling I got at all.

  5. We need HIV/AIDS education. It’s very important!! CDC has granted CSU $1.9M for HIV/AIDS education. The number of members on the largest STD dating&support site == stdloving.com has reached 500,000 members. OMG! why so many people are infected by HIV? There is no doubt that we need SEX-ED

  6. A life is a life! Whether they committed suicide because of bullying or because they were just depressed shouldnt really matter! The truth is that there were two people, people like you and me, who felt so utterly alone that the only resort left to them was suicide. Is that not enough to morn? Or now that you think they didnt kill themselves because of bullying they arnt worth your pitty? What if they had been your son or your friend or your loved one? This mentality that someones life isnt important unless they are gay, homosexuallity is the main cause of teen suicide, but isnt all teen suicide bad? Shouldnt we try and make every teen who has ever felt alone feel belonging. Why only the gay ones? Because you only see the gay ones. Open your eyes!

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