“I have peace because I don’t even ask why,” his mother Erin Georgia told Al.com. “If you do research on suicide, if you’ve had friends who have committed suicide, it’s not about why. The instinct we have to self-preserve is so strong that people will kill each other to survive. But to override that natural instinct, there is an imbalance, a despair, a depression, a slew of things that go into it. There’s not ever just one reason,” she said.
It’s not because Jay didn’t turn in his homework. It’s not that Jay got bullied. It’s not that Jay was transgender. It’s not just one thing, so asking why for suicide is an unending question that I think we torment ourselves with. I hate to resolve death down to why.
Although she doesn’t believe it was to blame, her son was bullied, Georgia said. “There was bullying because there is always bullying.”
“It’s probably been the roughest since the elections, because hate crimes have increased by 20 percent since the election and people feel more validated to be more discriminatory,” said Georgia. “It wasn’t from any particular student. It would be somebody in the hall saying, ‘trans.’ Those were very difficult times, but the teachers were very supportive.”
Griffin had just finished 7th grade at Hewitt-Trussville Middle School in Birmingham, Alabama, the heart of the Bible belt. Although he came out in 6th grade, the administration would not allow him to use the boy’s rest rooms or locker rooms. Instead his only choice was to use either the girls’ or the faculty bathroom. However, that faculty bathroom was so far away from his classes that he often he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, visit the rest room throughout the entire school day.
His mother said that last week in May, like most weeks, had ups and downs: Griffin had a really great day followed by a really bad day — the last day.
It was the end of the school year, and he had stuff to turn in. It was just stress and the worst day. He was down and he was upset.
His parents and family spent time with him, shared one last dinner together. “We checked on him multiple times. I did not specifically ask him if he wanted to hurt himself. It was completely unexpected,” Georgia said. “He had cut before, but he always immediately came to us and told us what he did. I would just hold him and talk to him.”
Early the next morning his parents found him dead in his bedroom.
The clarinet player loved science and fossils and geology, and described himself on Facebook as “just a dorky, salty but sweet teen Trans boy who likes to draw and stay up late.”
Griffin suffered from anxiety and depression. He was in therapy and on medication. His mom said he was accepted in their church but “He didn’t feel validated or accepted in our community.”
You really need a safe space of allies and advocates and people that are like you. That’s where they hear their true voices. There are no local community safe spaces that I know of, and we’ve looked. That was part of Jay’s struggle.
Pastor R.G. Wilson Lyons addressed this as he honored their son’s identity in his eulogy at First United Methodist Church.
We are all grieving the loss of Jay, but I also know that in addition to the pain and grief, some of you are also confused. We recognize that many of you may have questions because Jay was born with biologically female characteristics and many of you knew Jay as Jane Marie. Jay, along with nearly 1.5 million Americans, about .6 percent of the population, was transgendered, meaning the he identified as a male even though he was born with female characteristics. We recognize that this probably raises many questions for some of you and we want to let you know that pastors of this church… as well as myself would be glad to meet with you at another time and try to answer your questions. But today is about honoring the memory of Jay and praising God who has overcome death and pain, so we will identify Jay as he identified himself as proclaim God’s love and grace upon Jay in his life and now in his death.
Christian news media apparently did not get the message. Articles in the Christian Post and other right-wing conservative Christian sites misgendered Griffin in their reporting and focused on his mental health struggles. They also cited debunked claims by the bogus anti-LGBTQ advocacy group, the American College of Pediatrics, sending a message to parents that Matt and Erin Georgia, both proud veterans, had made a mistake in supporting their child’s transition.
“It was still the first year and a half. It was fresh,” Georgia told Al.com about her son’s transition. “He still hadn’t come out to the world. We were still in the baby stages. I mourned the loss of a daughter but then I realized that I’d been praying for a son my whole life,” Georgia said. “God answered that prayer, in just a different way.”
When Griffin came out to his parents, or as Georgia put it, “discovered that Jay was Jay,” she said “there was a transition from long hair, and he started dressing differently but there was never a big ‘aha moment’ for us.”
Or for him, she said.
“That was a personal thing I never bugged him about. I was concerned about loving and accepting and trying understand his perspective. We’ve always just loved and accepted our children for whoever they are,” she said. “I’m a very outspoken, tattooed Christian, very strong in my faith. We were just encouraging Jay. I would notice things as a mother and was like, ‘Hey, anything you want to talk to me about, I’m here.”’
In his obituary, Griffin’s parents called him an advocate. “Between publicly educating friends and family on proper pronoun use, and privately struggling with being called by his birth name and gender, Jay continued searching for the ever-elusive balance of social acceptance and personal validation.”
“We need to promote education of diversity,” Georgia said. “Not just for the children, because the children get it. We need to reach out to parents.”
If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.