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.


  1. Seth says

    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.

  2. MateoM says

    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.

  3. Kumicu says

    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.

  4. Mike Ryan says

    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.

  5. MateoM says

    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.

  6. Kevin-in-Honolulu says


    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.

  7. says

    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.

  8. I wont grow up says

    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”.

  9. Dawn says

    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!

  10. Dastius Krazitauc says

    “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.

  11. Caliban says

    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!

  12. Hey Darlin' says

    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.

  13. Hey Darlin' says

    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.

  14. Seth says

    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?

  15. MateoM says

    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.

  16. Christopher King` says

    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.

  17. gregorybrown says

    @ Mateom–the one claiming the “real “identity: please explain the intent of your comment “…at least Betts wasn’t an attractive gay teen”.

  18. Derrick from Philly says


    that wasn’t the real MATEOM. That’s that old hag David Hagatha Hearne–created by Rick. There are some crazy-azz fools on this blog now.

  19. MateoM says

    Thanks, Derrick! I hadn’t even noticed that Rick/Jason had returned and was posting under my name again. The only comment from the actual MateoM is the one criticizing Jerry for being dense. The others criticizing the looks of this poor kid and and arguing that five suicides by queer youth isn’t related to anti gay bullying is obviously from Rick/Jason, because he’s the only person I can think of that has such little humanity that could even post such things. I thought Andy had finally gotten a hold on the trolls, but I guess I was wrong. People like Rick/Jason are the kinds of closeted gay people would happily join in on bullying openly gay teens so long as it allowed themselves to pass as straight.

  20. says

    rather than being a useless tw@twaffle and sayign “the it gets better campaign doens’t work!” how about you try this:

    make a video with a specific applicable message. not just sentiments. APPLICABLE actions.

    that way, you give direction to not just gay people, but non-gay people. you give them direction, you give them applicable advice, you give them something to set their sights on that they can work toward.

    but, NO. that’s too hard for the sniveling wimps who use the deaths of children to, pathetically, rail against Dan Savage.

    quel freakin’ surprise.

    if you cant’ get to the towns where these kids live, USE THE WORLDWIDE WEB TO REACH THEM – send messages of support, show them how to make life better NOW for themselves and their friends and family.

    gay youth suicide rates have actually not increased.

    what’s changed? for the first time in history, straight people are talking about them.

    we can help our youth by coming out, and opening the doors for them.

    i hope you grown adults who read these threads do just that. OUT yourself. to everyone. EVERYONE.

    you’re a grown adult. it’s your, OUR, responsibility to open the doors for the next generations.

  21. Rick says

    Too bad I’m so pathetic that I have the balls to live one day out of the closet. I don’t need other people to bully me into being suicidal and closeted; I bully myself more than enough for that. Proof: I feel the need to utilize several usernames to ridicule the tragic loss of a promising queer youth who was emotionally destroyed by his peers just for being himself. The only true self I know is the cowardly, emotional eunuch that has never once stood up for myself. I’m much happier ridiculing others. No, not happier, but it certainly keeps my mind off of how pathetic my own life is.

  22. says

    @Christopher King – i encourage you to put a face to your story. make a video on youtube and provide the link here, so we can all share it, and in this video you’re going to be making you can give a specific message of just how you were able to get through the daily bullying of being a young kid, either who was openly gay or was targeted as gay, before you were officially out.

    that would be the best thing to do in order to help others. rather than telling them that they’re cowards, how about you show yourself as a non-coward, since you’re clearly not one by your own admission, and you can show them how to get through the daily bullying so many young kids get.

    so, deal?

    when can we expect to see the video you’re making, Christopher King?

    thanks in advance.

  23. Ratbastard says

    Little Canadian, you would approve of posting under other people’s names. And mocking the death of my father. I didn’t ask for him to die while bottoming for well-endowed black youths. I would appreciate it if you stopped ridiculing me for it.

  24. MateoM says

    Yeah, the trolling has to stop. You’d think the trolls would be easy to spot and ban. Our inability to unite in situations where our youth is literally being killed off by an inhospitable social climate only adds to the despair that underscore stories like this. Can somebody please put a stop to this behavior?

  25. Frank says

    I was bullied as a kid too, but I used that to make myself stronger and more successful thank anyone that went to school with…by far. These kids are coddled by their parents and are made martyrs by the media. Call me more names, but Im right.

  26. Latina Hottie says

    Gay community is going to be silent about this, instead of gay groups sending troops out to that town…speaking to school officials, having townhall meetings, even opening an office there for a few months and doing sevre outreach work. We have the money to do this but we always fail our LGBT youth!

  27. Martin says

    LOL look at the self hating gays blaming the it gets better campaign as opposed to mother f*cking holding HETERO homophobes responsible. You self hating crowd have your tongues so far up the breeder a hole you can’t even come up to see reality. Keeping licking their bum

  28. Klien says

    Frank, it’s homophobe bigots like you that need to kill yourself not our precious gay youth. Better yet, I pray you get cancer and die a slow, longgg, agonizing death. And people like you usually do. Karma makes sure of that boo boo.

  29. says

    @Frank – it would be wonderful, then, since you’re such a strong and empowered openly-gay man who survived adversity, if you would show these young at-risk people just how you got through it.

    you can put your specific message and tell your specific story on video, and post it on youtube, and provide the link here on Towleroad so that we can all help you in sharing it, thus likely helping save some more lives.

    when can we expect you to share this video with all of us?

  30. greenfuzz says

    It would be more helpful if the it gets better campaign was on television instead of being relegated to the internet. And yes,all the fake names and arrested development on nthis blog has become most tiring.

  31. Hagatha says

    I don’t think that anyone should have to endure the torment that classmates can dish out. At the same time, I can’t get all worked up over some kid doing himself in when so many of us put up with all kinds of crap and abuse and never tried suicide, or cutting ourselves, or any of the other self destructive behaviors glorified in after school specials.

    Of course, having parents who weren’t idiots, and older siblings who promised a better day made a lot of difference. People who have kids need to realize that their choices as parents have consequences to their kids.

  32. gregorybrown says

    Thanks authentic Mateom for clarifying that. I am more and more appalled at the things people post in blogs and comment threads. There is deep meanness in the land. Ironic or satirical comments are needed in settings where they are merited but casual insensitivity is becoming the norm.

  33. UFFDA says

    Beware, Little Kiwi is an extension of the trolls he despises when he blatantly poses under their names, he is in fact a diabolical double troll mole. The only one who knows is Andy and he does nothing. Poor Mateom, and all the rest.

  34. Frank says

    Little Kiwi, I did it by having a strong sense of self and having support of good parents. Do you doubt that kids are different today or do you not know any? Do you see these 25yr olds today who’ve invented the Quarter Life Crisis? Look it up, its a real thing. Parents are raising kids, both straight and gay who don’t know how to take care of themselves. Just a fact of life these days and I don’t owe you anything else.

  35. Rob says

    I agree with Mike- sue the schools into oblivion. When the sports budget gets cut, they will address bullying and teen suicide. I lived in Iowa for four years and found enormous pressure to conform everywhere outside of Johnson County. (Iowa City is magical though.)

    Paging Morris Dees and and the Southern Poverty Law Center, GLAAD, and Lambda Legal.

  36. says

    “Frank” – put your story to video; giving it a face and name personalizes it and makes a greater impact.

    Surely, you can do this as you’re a strong and empowered Openly Gay Grown Adult, and surely have no problem with everyone knowing that you’re gay – which is the specific issue that puts so much pressure on these young TEENS.

    So when can we expect to see the VIDEO you’re going to be making, so we can all help share it?

    So, rather than type: speak, into your videocamera, and post your message on youtube; your message of how to specifically get through those tough years.

    when can we expect to see it?

  37. Jerry6 says

    Are there any State Laws concerning jail time for Bullies? There are non? Then Enact Some. There ARE some? Then start prosecuting the bullies and send them to Jail.

  38. Armando says

    Generally, news organizations have rules about using a child’s name. I don’t know if it’s a law but they usually need parent’s permission.

  39. Yesika says

    I feel like the “it gets better” slogan is a lot like telling women that to avoid sexual assault they should dress conservatively; by that I mean that it puts the onus for change or responsibility for keeping quiet and coping on the VICTIM. Rather than saying, “This is WRONG and the perpetrators are the problem,” it implies that people who are different are supposed to be tortured, but if they grin and bear it somehow they will earn the right to exist in peace. I understand the concept as encouragement for victims of bullying, but we as a society shouldn’t be teaching people how to cope with torture, but eradicating in every possible way the ignorance which leads to hate. Maybe instead of “It gets better” we should be telling kids, “You deserve better.” How do we raise the next generation of activists by telling kids to keep their heads down and wait until things magically change? I know we all want to protect our kids, but telling them they just have to stick it out and deal with whatever hell comes their way until some undefinable future point automatically puts them in a position of helplessness…effectively (although unintentionally) making them more proficient victims.

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