Bullying | Gay Youth | Iowa | News

Gay Teen Takes His Own Life, And Is The Fifth One To Do So From His High School

AJ Betts

Over the weekend, 16-year-old AJ Betts tragically ended his own life after enduring harassment at the hands of his peers for at least a year and a half. Betts was reportedly outed by his classmates, and made repeat attempts to stand up for himself and others. A memorial service was held for him earlier this morning.

According to Queerty, Betts underwent bullying simply for being "different". In addition to mocking his sexuality, bullies also chose to single him out for having a cleft lip and for being half black. His friend, Noah Lahmann, told KCCI 8 News, “you’re hurting people with words. I lost my best friend because of words." His mother also told reporters that she hopes to keep the spirit of her son's advocacy alive, to ensure that his death is not in vain:

"Several people who are gay or lesbian teens told us that AJ saved them from committing suicide when they were feeling desperate, and I really hope, for AJ's sake, that we can stop it, so that maybe, even if we can save one more life from bullying, that would be a success."

Betts MemorialShe added that prior to this weekend, "we had no indication that anything was wrong. He is the happiest kid I've ever met. Everybody who meets him says that."

As was noted by KCCI and Queerty, Betts is the fifth student from Iowa’s Southeast Polk High School to commit suicide in the last five years. The school's principal told KCCI that he could not comment on the nature or severity of the bullying that drove Betts to take his own life. He has also yet to comment on Southeast Polk's apparent problem with student suicide. The Southeast Polk Community School District has also chosen to remain silent on the issue. 

You can read KCCI's full report and watch the video HERE.

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  1. So the victim is identified by name. The friend is identified by name. But the bullies? The people who actually caused the suicide? Well, we can't identify them, can we? No, let's just call them "classmates" and leave it at that. Wouldn't want to inconvenience them or invade their privacy.

    Shame on the media. And also shame on the friends of this guy for not exposing the bullies by name.

    Posted by: Seth | Jul 29, 2013 12:38:58 PM

  2. Sign of Gay Journalism Apocalypse: Towleroad citing Queerty.

    Andy, get control of this thing!

    Posted by: MateoM | Jul 29, 2013 12:48:32 PM

  3. I did not type the above post attributed falsely to 'MateoM'! I hate when Rick/Jason slanders my online reputation.

    On the other hand, at least Betts wasn't an attractive gay teen.

    Posted by: MateoM | Jul 29, 2013 12:54:39 PM

  4. I think its time to start threatening to reveal bullies names and photos to press and social media outlets to school districts and principals. I am sick of reading when a bullied kid defends him/her self they are the ones getting expelled from school, not the bullies. Nearly all schools have cameras, these bullies need to be dealt with swiftly and that should include family counseling.

    Posted by: Kumicu | Jul 29, 2013 12:56:49 PM

  5. Who did this? Who were those bullies? Name them and shame them! Stop protecting the identities of people who drive others to kill themselves.

    Posted by: Nino | Jul 29, 2013 1:02:56 PM

  6. Shame on the school system!

    Posted by: Alan | Jul 29, 2013 1:06:05 PM

  7. You would hope summer vacation would be somewhat of a respite from school bullying.

    Posted by: Dastius Krazitauc | Jul 29, 2013 1:10:55 PM

  8. Shame on gay media for continuing to glorify teen suicide. We do not need gay martyrs, we need happy healthy LGBT people.

    Posted by: Jerry | Jul 29, 2013 1:21:16 PM

  9. The answer here is to hold the school, the school board, the school officials and the students known for the bullying accountable. Sue the school. Seek criminal charges of neglect, abuse and failure to protect agains the school board and most assuredly the school principal. Those identified and proven to have committed the bullying should be removed from school and face hate crime charges which must result in incarceration, not for 30 days but 30 years.

    This child is gone - gone because the pain and suffering he was subjected to was too overwhelming. Those who caused it or failed to stop it must be held responsible.

    Posted by: Mike Ryan | Jul 29, 2013 1:26:11 PM

  10. Jerry, are you that dense? The reason we can't have "happy healthy LGBT people" is because many are killing themselves due to bullying. If we don't report it, how the hell are we ever going to make people aware of the problem? How can we fix a problem if we are unaware of it. Idiot.

    Posted by: MateoM | Jul 29, 2013 1:32:25 PM

  11. You would think after the first suicide the school might try to handle the situation.

    Posted by: Michael | Jul 29, 2013 1:33:57 PM

  12. @SETH

    And SHAME on the high school administrators who also have no names.

    I am sorry to vent here, ladies and gentlemen, but this issue continues to be so totally outrageous to me and how it is allowed to continue...I have no more words.

    Posted by: Kevin-in-Honolulu | Jul 29, 2013 1:36:36 PM

  13. So much for "it gets better." That message is far too simplistic to be much help to LGBT teens. For many of them, it absolutely does NOT get better, and it won't until we adults finally get serious and crack down on bullying due to gender expression, whenever and wherever it occurs.

    Posted by: Stuffed Animal | Jul 29, 2013 1:44:49 PM

  14. Something is very, very wrong at that school. They need to clean house in the administration.
    Bullying has been going on for centuries, unfortunately it's probably never going to stop. People will always be different and the different will always be tortured. There are no easy answers. How do you teach tolerance to an ignorant populace filled with bigots, racists and homophobes?
    We can punish the bullies, their parents or the school officials, but in the end it keeps happening. I was terribly bullied as a fat fairy as a kid, I survived, but I still remember every insult and beating at the age of 65.
    I don't know what the solution is, or even if there is one. Maybe it's more than just lip service like "It gets better". But how can you teach these poor kids how to cope.
    It is so frustrating and heart breaking.
    Every one of these kids is "US".

    Posted by: I wont grow up | Jul 29, 2013 1:51:06 PM

  15. The bullies should be named. The kids know who the bullies in the school are, and they've witnessed the incidences. Someone speak up, please!

    Posted by: Dawn | Jul 29, 2013 2:02:47 PM

  16. "For many of them, it absolutely does NOT get better,"

    I don't think it was ever meant as a *guarantee* that things will get better, but more of an encouragement to stick out their traumatic high school years and live to an age that can give them a better perspective.

    Posted by: Dastius Krazitauc | Jul 29, 2013 2:02:55 PM

    The problem isn't fix by a t-shirt catch phrase.

    Posted by: Frank | Jul 29, 2013 2:07:26 PM

  18. Did the "It Gets Better" campaign fix or end the problem of bullying? No, it didn't but it was a step in the right direction. Obviously more is needed but that doesn't mean that IGB is bad or worthless. Nothing is going to END bullying, but if you have an idea that will help, by all means get to work on it!

    Posted by: Caliban | Jul 29, 2013 2:09:36 PM

  19. And the school district CHOSE to remain silent on the subject. Sickening. It doesn't sound like that's working at all. Probably time to actually take a look at the real problem with your school and do something about it. It's too late for this poor poor kid but it might not be for the next one.

    And yet there was the "don't say gay bill". I want an explanation of how that would ever help THESE children. This truly is an example of "Won't someone think of the children". Yes the gay ones your children are driving to suicide.

    Posted by: Hey Darlin' | Jul 29, 2013 2:14:43 PM

  20. The only resource some of these kids have is each other. There NEEDS to be a gay straight alliance at every school, so these kids know someone is on their side. Also, to help unite those who are different just as any other club does for their members. You can overcomne a lot of obstacles as a group.

    Posted by: Hey Darlin' | Jul 29, 2013 2:23:03 PM

  21. One of the bullies is named Jerry

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jul 29, 2013 2:26:01 PM

  22. I agree with David....Jerry is one of the bullies when he posts stupid comments like that.

    Posted by: eric | Jul 29, 2013 2:44:59 PM

  23. Kevin in Honolulu:

    Usually, the administrators are identified because their names and titles are all online and because they are called upon to respond to queries from the press.

    But it has become a well-established practice to cover up the names of the bullies. In every case of a gay kid being bullied into suicide, not a single bully has been identified.

    Not one bully of Billy Lucas. Not one bully of Justin Aaberg. Not one bully of Asher Brown. These bullies get to escape any responsibility and accountability. They go on with their lives completely unburdened by anything they have done. Only in the case of Tyler Clementi has a bully's name been released and even in that one case, most of the other perpetrators' names have been discreetly left out of the press coverage.

    Why? Why are the friends and families of these victims colluding in this odious practice? And why aren't journalists going out and exposing these bullies?

    I suppose it would be too much to hope that Towleroad and/or RJ Aguiar would actually practice some journalism and pick up the phone and try to find out who the bullies are. Or does Mr. Aguiar simply copy and paste news stories here?

    Posted by: Seth | Jul 29, 2013 2:50:15 PM

  24. Important to note: Five suicides in five years DOES NOT mean that all five were related to anti-gay bullying, or even bullying of any type.

    We should be very careful not to over-react to poorly reported, intentionally sensationalized stories.

    Posted by: MateoM | Jul 29, 2013 3:27:45 PM

  25. This just seems to be becoming quite the trend as of late. What, you're being bullied so now it's just natural to kill yourself?
    Sorry kids, I was bullied and nearly killed in my youth in one incident, and I didn't take the cowards way out.
    There's always a better way.

    Posted by: Christopher King` | Jul 29, 2013 4:10:20 PM

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