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. God, gays hate each other worse than the Westboro Baptists ever could.

    Posted by: Frank | Jul 29, 2013 11:11:17 PM

  2. 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.

    Posted by: Rob | Jul 30, 2013 7:21:09 AM

  3. Just released a video to spread the word about the Trevor Project. I'll add A.J. to the video soon :(

    Posted by: MGraye | Jul 30, 2013 9:57:46 AM

  4. "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?

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 30, 2013 11:14:58 AM

  5. 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.

    Posted by: Jerry6 | Jul 30, 2013 5:58:21 PM

  6. 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.

    Posted by: Armando | Jul 30, 2013 10:07:31 PM

  7. 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.

    Posted by: Yesika | Aug 10, 2013 5:09:27 AM

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