Metro Weekly

Tennessee boy dies by suicide after he was bullied for being gay

Eli Fritchley's parents say his classmates told him he was going to end up in hell because he was gay and not very religious.

Tennessee, boy, suicide, gay, bullied
Eli Fritchley – Photo: Facebook.

The parents of a 12-year-old Tennessee boy who died by suicide say he was relentlessly bullied at school for being gay prior to his death.

Debbey and Steve Fritchley, the parents of Eli Fritchley, a seventh grader at Cascades Middle School in Shelbyville, Tennessee, say they believe their son took his life a week before last Sunday because he was tormented at school for his gender nonconformity.

Eli, a trombone player in the school’s marching band, painted his nails, loved the color pink, and wore the same SpongeBob sweatshirt nearly every day.

“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon,” his mother told the Nashville-based ABC affiliate WKRN, saying her son loved doing the laundry and cleaning his clothes every day.

But Eli’s treatment at the hands of his classmates went far beyond teasing to outright condemnation.

“He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to Hell. They told him that quite often,” Debbey Fritchley said.

“It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt,” Steve Fritchley added.

“He didn’t care, or at least we thought he didn’t care, and that’s what’s really difficult for us because we thought he didn’t care,” Debbey said, noting that her son remained friendly and compassionate despite the bullying.

“This has just blindsided us,” she continued. “This is something we would have never, ever expected.”

The Fritchleys, who have five other sons, are calling on the school system to take steps to address bullying so that other children will not be victimized.

“I honestly think education, education, education for everyone where bullying is concerned because it is a problem, not just in Bedford County. It’s a problem everywhere,” Debbey said.

The Fritchleys were regulars at Penalties Sports Bar & Grill in Shelbyville. The owners of the restaurant, Rob and Shondelle Lewis, who thought of the Fritchleys as family, said they’re devastated by Eli’s suicide.

To help, the Lewises have created a GoFundMe page to raise money for a foundation that the Fritchley family will be starting to educate people about bullying and suicide awareness.

See also: National equality organizations launch anti-bullying website to support LGBTQ youth and parents

“This fund is being set up in memory of Eli and 100% will go to a foundation being created that will go towards helping other kids and families that might be in the same situation as the Fritchley’s (sic) so that this terrible tragedy doesn’t have to happen again,” Shondelle wrote in the GoFundMe page’s description.

“As parents and grandparents, it is our responsibility to teach our children to love, not hate; to be kind, not mean; to understand that we are all different in our own ways and that is OK. Hug your children and your grandchildren, tell them this world doesn’t have to be so full of evil because in the end, evil never wins,” she continued.

Bedford County Schools released a statement mourning Eli’s death.

“We are absolutely shocked and devastated by this news,” Dr. Tammy Garrett, the superintendent of schools in Bedford County, said in the statement. “Anytime someone takes his or her life, especially a child, it is nearly unbearable. Our hearts go out to his parents and family as they deal with this terrible loss.”

Garrett added that the school system and community will be looking into further efforts to support social and emotional learning in the schools, including support programs for middle and high school students who are experiencing bullying or harassment.

“Raising caring, kind, resilient children is all of our jobs, and parents are not alone,” Garrett said. “At Bedford County Schools we strive to provide positive learning environments with positive affirmations for all children, every day. What’s best for our students is what is best for BCS.”

See also:

Foster agency sues Biden administration so it can keep rejecting gay couples

Movement in Ghana seeks to outlaw being gay before it becomes a ‘pandemic’

Former middle school teacher claims she was demoted for refusing to take down Pride flag

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