Gay Youth Activist Commits Suicide in Brooklyn

Joseph Jefferson, a 26-year-old gay rights activist based in Brooklyn, New York, committed suicide over the weekend.

Jefferson Author Nathan James writes, on Facebook:

I've been working on the story of another sad ending to a promising young gay life this weekend.  Joseph Jefferson, a 2002 graduate of Harvey Milk High School, POCC and GMAD worker, and assistant to LGBT event promoters Laurence Pinckney and James Saunders, died by suicide yesterday at the age of 26.  Mr. Jefferson, whose Facebook page includes these words, written by him, 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 "social mainstream".  Mr. Jefferson wrote:

"Belonging is one of the basic human needs, when people feel isolated and excluded from a sense of communion with others, they suffer. I have been an advocate for my peers and most importantly youth because most have never had a deep emotional attachment to anyone. They don’t know how to love and be loved in return. The need to be loved can sometimes translate to the need to belong to someone or something. Driven by that need….. Most will do anything to belong."

As an advocate for LGBT youth, Mr. Jefferson surely made a positive impact onb those he met and counseled.  But this same nurturing and enrichment he offered to others, was absent in his own life to such a degree, that he felt the only way to deal with the pain of his existence was to end it.

Antoine Craigwell reports, on AlterNet: "Pinckney said that Saunders and GMAD are collaborating to hold an event: “Celebration of Life – Stop the Madness” at the LGBT Center on Friday, from 6 – 8pm, to raise funds to assist with Jefferson’s funeral expenses, during which those who are active in the community would speak about the crisis in the Black gay community."


  1. Sean says

    I think blogs and publications need to consider seriously whether reporting every gay suicide is truly news.

    Is it possible stories like this encourage unhappy young people to attempt suicide?

  2. ratbastard says

    Very sad. Who knows what was occurring in his private life, relationships, family, etc., Amazing he himself didn’t feel a sense of being part of a comforting community. Perhaps also Mr. Jefferson surrounded himself 24/7 with a single issue, and became burned out. Everyone has to have a life with diverse interests and activities to remain sane.

    I personally think most people who commit suicide do so for private reasons such as failed personal relationships and so on, not for big picture issues.

  3. steve says

    SEAN – the copycat theory is valid – but these stories affirm what we’ve all felt as GLBT kids, and visibility is good for us! The more we hide the results of bullying, the more it will continue.

    So yes, let’s keep running these stories – and hold the bulliers accountable!

  4. says

    I too feel Joseph’s pain. As this world has become more connected, the truths and realities of the vile hatred towards the LGBT community has never been more apparent.

    Having just shut down his business after 35 years, my father is going through some emotional times with my mother’s aneurism, his Parkinson’s and an uncertain future. My mother has asked me to write a letter to him for a faith based retreat for men he will be attending this next week. As I sit here and try to convey the words of love and admiration for a man that has stood by me, even after he found out I was HIV+ and has never once rejected me or my partner, I can’t help but feel how lucky I am to have such loving parents. Sadly, it’s a gift that many LGBT youth have never had the good fortune to experience.

    We all know that religion (and certainly the Catholic Church, which my parents are proud members of) plays the largest role in making our community scapegoats for society’s ills. My father is not an educated man, but is smart enough to understand that I did not “choose” a life where I would be ridiculed and discriminated against. He understands that living the life I was born to live is something I had to do in order to stay true to myself and he respects my honesty for being an open and proud gay man.

    To all the kids that never had this kind of love and acceptance, I will testify that IT DOES GET BETTER. Maybe not as soon as you’d like, but you will find your way in this world and you will find the love, peace, happiness and the man or woman of your dreams that shares your values.

    I have been with my partner Ricardo for over ten years now and it hasn’t been easy. It takes a lot of hard work to keep our relationship together and is something I’ve learned from my parents own trials and tribulations through the death of my brother from AIDS, a faltering business to all the patchy situations my sister and I put them through. Right now, Rick and I are going through the most trying time of our relationship and if it wasn’t for his steadfast belief in me, I don’t know what I would have done without him.

    Though you may not see it now, you will find that love and acceptance you’ve been praying for. Having attempted suicide twice already, I can honestly say I’m glad I didn’t succeed. There is so much more to life and one day you too WILL find it. Just give it a little more time. Whether it’s underneath the stars or over the rainbow, one day when you’re not expecting it, you’ll be hit upside the head with an “Oh SNAP” there it is.

    R.I.P. Joseph, you were a shining example of the best we have to offer and will be missed by those you counseled and those that knew you best and loved you most.

    -Peace, Love and Self-respect

  5. TJ says

    @ RATBASTARD: Here we go again. And once again, social support – and that includes society – can be a protective as well as a contributing factor. Someone who gave so much to a cause likely was all too familiar with disappointments as well as successes. A sensitive soul who cared deeply, perhaps too deeply, might take the set backs too personally. Particularly hard when the cause IS personal, and about the lack of support by society. Had he better insight, he might have realized the need to keep some healthy distance and perspective. Also, those who give so much to others are often the last to ask for help for themselves. Weird, huh? But a perfect storm of sadness any way you look at it.

  6. Jon B says

    @Sean – I was thinking the same exact thing a few weeks ago, but was too afraid that people would find it offensive to post it. I feel like some of these most recent suicides are some sort of twisted martyrdom… almost for a cause. It’s been kind of creeping me out actually.

  7. ratbastard says


    Yes, obviously, Joe Jefferson was a sensitive soul. I am not blaming him for anything. I of course also understand the added pressures society puts on homosexuals (I don’t understand the added pressures being a black male homosexual are but appreciate they exist).

    My previous post simply stated my belief most suicides kill themselves over personal issues such as relationship failures and so on. What is wrong or evil with my saying this, TJ? Also, I simply stated folks need to chill out and have an escape from their jobs, political activity, etc., We all need diverse life interests and hobbies (if you want to call them that) to remain grounded and sane. Is this a wrong thinking on my part,TJ?

  8. ratbastard says

    I don’t get up every day thinking, breathing, gay issues, 24/7. Being homosexual is an important part of me, but it’s only a part of a greater whole. Many of my biggest life issues have really nothing with being gay per say, but are issues every human being must deal with. Perhaps Joe (assuming again he wasn’t ultimately depressed over private matters) allowed himself to get overwhelmed by the constant negative issues he dealt with doing his job. Sad no one was able to pull him back, and encourage him to chill out for his own sanity.

  9. TJ says

    @RAT WHat might wrong is my interpretation of your messages on this topic, which I feel minimize the impact and importance of society’s condemnation. Compartmentalization can be useful. But I do wonder if you might actually be protectively distancing yourself.

  10. Jerry says

    I’ve been thinking for two weeks about the martyrs we are creating. Let’s stop this madness. We need our numbers to big and strong. We need to stop canonizing nonexistent gay saints, because right wing nut jobs don’t give a shit, and I dare say that many of them are glad to see us all go. Let’s get some fucking backbone again. If AIDS hadn’t wiped out so many, can you imagine how strong our community would be right now? I’ve had times in my life when I wanted to jump off a cliff, but you just don’t do that…don’t give those assholes that kind of power. Don’t let them win.

  11. X says


    Yes, peace on his soul, first and foremost. Then I have to say: who will step up and fight for him in his place? I don’t know how to tell all these young people that we need them, absolutely need them alive and thriving. We have to do all we can with the life each of us has got.

  12. justaguy says

    @Sean & @ Jon: Umm, these things were happening before, but they just didn’t get reported. We all have seen a million movies/tv stories/personal-friend’s accounts of this stuff happening and the family and even the victim keeping it very quiet that it was a suicide. Or keeping it very quiet that the victim was gay and dealing with shit because of it. I’m not as convinced of the copy-cat theory.

    @Jerry, I like your sentiment, brutha. But it’s an empirical question, isn’t it? My explanations above suggest that a copy-cat theory may be false.

    Plus, these kids are crying for help. Why won’t the nation freakin help. Respect and equality already!

    Look at all the prominent deep-seated-gay-hating politicians and hate-based laws still governing even in places like New England and NYC. Claiming a copy-cat theory here seems too much like blaming the victim. I don’t buy it and I won’t do it.

  13. BigGuy says

    I have sympathy for the pain his friends and family are suffering now.

    I do not have sympathy for this young man. He was a handsome man with a job and his own place. He felt unloved and depressed.

    He handled his depression by ending his life, instead of going to a psychiatrist and taking anti-depressants. He used a permanent solution for a temporary problem. Psychiatry and anti-depressants may not make a man happy, but together they can transform life threatening depression into everyday unhappiness. Yes, many anti-depressants may make the depressed user fat, but isn’t it better to be alive and fat, than to be a corpse?

  14. DireFates says

    “Yes, many anti-depressants may make the depressed user fat, but isn’t it better to be alive and fat, than to be a corpse?”

    Was it only the side effects of antidepressants that stopped him? There are other treatments without those pills that could have worked. Some are very new and hard to find, but well worth the time.

  15. bridgesburned says

    I don’t think anyone is trying to take the blame off of society, but I think that RATBASTARD is pointing out that there are some people who forget that part of the responsibility does still lie in the person him/herself. I suffer from clinical depression, and attempted suicide last year. A year ago I saw little to no point in continuing in a world that was so cold and callus, a world still filled with hate and prejudice, and a world where it’s nearly impossible for young people to get their lives started. Unless you have a great support circle, you fall through the cracks. And until I was forced into counseling, I had no one, not even a single family member. A year later I can honestly say that as much as this world sucks, as horrible as society can be, if I hadn’t of taken a little personal responsibility and taken care of myself, I wouldn’t be alive. I just wish Joseph had had the support from family and friends that we all so desperately needed, but more so, I wish he had loved himself enough to take care of himself. He definitely deserved it.

    And there is an obvious cycle here; I’m sure if society or at least his closer friends and family had been more attentive to his needs and not just their own, his self esteem would have been a lot higher to start with. The two go hand in hand, and I hope we can come together and tackle BOTH the issue of social bullying AND the issue of bullying yourself.

  16. Rowan says

    Bridge but you met the right counsellor. I can’t tell you of enough times that if you meet the wrong one-you are f*cked.

    Its a pity the racism in Towleroad has kicked out all the only black gay commenters it had because it would be really interesting to see how they can soak their experiences of being invincible in the gay community, self haring in the black gay community and kicked out of the ultra religious black community.

    My experiences as a black gay man is completely different because I am not based in America-never been-and it’s completely different in the UK because it’s more integrated between races. The religious blacks tend to be first generation immigrants who still stick within their insular communities.

  17. Sean R says

    Another sad news story. It exemplifies that inability to cope with being gay is not confined to lonely teens in the middle of nowhere. From what is mentioned of this young man, school environment, activism etc., you might think he’d have been fine but the tragic suicide points to a more fundamental problem about homophobia, ethnicity and about vulnerable young masculinities. Very sad indeed but requires a more coherent strategy than wishing “it gets better”…

  18. jason says

    But it isn’t just the Right which attacks gays. The Left does too. It does it through the entertainment industry.

    The entertainment industry – which includes music and movies – is exceptionally hetero normative and homophobic in terms of content. Just look at the black music industry. In the last 20 years, black music has been characterized by homophobic rappers and hip-hop artists. Almost all black songs are about heterosexual relations. It’s a very exclusionary ethos.

  19. LongByNight says

    Another one gives up. Man up for christ sake people. We’ve all been through plenty of our own shit over the years and all for the same reason. I made it. Anyone reading this has so far made it. Do we honestly have to keep telling you it gets better? I can see these pressures weighing heavy on a 13 year old. But 26? If you’re going to be such a pussy and end your life because of all the bullying don’t do it in the lgbt name.

    Just look at what your grandparents went through. It pales.

  20. northoftheborder says

    not making light of the fact that young gays are killing themselves.. but how many young straight boys and girls and adults for that matter take their lives daily in the USA and Canada.. and go unreported.

  21. mike says

    This is very, very, very sad. He was someone special. My condolences to his family and friends and to all those LGBT youth he helped and counseled. God rest his soul and grant him peace.

  22. shannon says

    PLEASE seek help in someone! We are losing all the GOOD gay people who are trying to make a difference in our lives! My heart goes out…but ~PLEASE~ this is NOT the answer!!

  23. mike128 says

    @longbynight: your comment is unbelievable. I don’t think anyone takes their life because they are a “pussy” or can’t “man up” (both misogynistic concepts anyway). and @ratbastard: i think people who surround and immerse themselves in the cause are often people who have had the least support in their families/communities, and are trying to create community and a sense of belonging through their work. Sometimes it’s not enough. But clearly this young man was TRYING to make it work for himself and for others like him before he got so completely overwhelmed that he had to take his life. Any suicide is a tragedy, and the pain and suffering someone needs to feel before arriving at that point is beyond comprehension for most of us. I think we need to keep reporting these stories and the communities that reject LGBT people need to be made aware of the impact of their ignorance and hatred.

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