Eugene Brown, an openly gay resident of the Brewerytown section, calls anti-LGBT bullying a “national crisis” that needs urgent attention. Brown, 30, said he was targeted for bullying numerous times as a student at Olney High School and contemplated suicide on multiple occasions.
Brown was particularly upset after reading about the recent suicides of two African-American youths. On April 5, Phillip Spruill Jr., a fifth grader at Benjamin B. Comegys Elementary, ended his life in his Bartram Village home after being bullied about his weight. Relatives said Spruill was also despondent because his younger brother was constantly bullied by classmates who perceived him to be gay.
Spruill’s grandmother told PGN the bullying was pervasive. “It was in school, on the school bus and all the way up to his front door, because [the kids all live] in the same complex,” she said. “They would chase [Spruill and his brother] and call them ‘fatty and the faggot.’”
On April 18, Nigel Shelby, an openly-gay ninth grader at Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Alabama, also committed suicide. Shelby’s death was attributed to pervasive anti-LGBT bullying at the school. Even in death he was ridiculed. Jeff Graves, a sheriff’s deputy in Alabama who ridiculed Shelby in Facebook posts, has been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of an internal investigation.
Brown said he tried hard to organize an outdoor vigil commemorating the deaths of Spruill and Shelby. “I was in their shoes growing up,” he explained. “Bullying and suicide are major things we’ve been dealing with for years. I want to do everything I can to bring light to the subject.”
The vigil was scheduled for 7 p.m. April 29 at 19th and Master streets in North Philadelphia. Brown said he reached out to multiple LGBTQ agencies to garner support for the vigil. But only Brown and a PGN reporter attended. Undaunted, Brown said the lack of attendance merely demonstrates the need for more public awareness on the issue.
He intends to organize another vigil in the near future. “This isn’t going to stop,” he vowed. “Hopefully, more people will attend the next one.” n