On June 17, Michael George Smith Jr. posted a screen shot of a message from a sibling on his Facebook page. It read, “God doesn’t born gay people. You make yourself gay.” Smith, a gay native of Hackensack, N.J., wrote in a caption, “My mother is teaching my siblings to despise Gays.. I’m done with Life. I’m Hurt To The Core.”
Less than a month later, he was dead.
On July 7, Smith, 22, who also identified as London Jermaine, was found hanging from a tree in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. Moments beforehand, he had posted another message.
“I see y’all in the next Life… Deadass,” he wrote on his Facebook page, which listed him as a student of computer science at Georgia Tech. “Father forgive me.”
Police ruled the death a suicide. They found no signs of a struggle, just a shoe print on a wheeled garbage can’s lid near the tree that matched Smith’s black Converse sneakers. Pollen was in his clothes from where he had climbed the tree. Earbuds were still in his ears. The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office determined that the cause of death was asphyxiation from hanging.
However, Smith’s death shocked many on social media, who wondered if it might be a motivated by hate. They called it a “modern-day lynching,” reports Project Q. The timing was a factor in that theory. The young man died in the midst of protests in Atlanta over the police shootings that rocked the country last week.
Ultimately, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has ruled that there was no foul play. But Smith’s social media posts reveal that he was struggling with his identity as a gay man of color in the United States. And he was crying out for help.
“Being Gay in America is Hard. Being Black in America is Hard. Imagine being both #NoH8,” he wrote June 13.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual young people are even more vulnerable, taking their lives at four times the rate as their straight peers. Moreover, each instance of verbal or physical abuse against an LGBT person increases their likelihood to self-harm by an average of 2.5 times, according to a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Smith’s also detailed struggles with health issues, including several cases of food poisoning. On one occasion, he wrote that had a CT scan: “Please No to Have Colon Cancer… I thought I was free of everything.”
Smith’s family has launched a GoFundMe page to cover his funeral expenses. As of the time of this article’s publishing, the family had raised $1,010 of a $5,000 goal.