A gay teen who was driven to attempt suicide after his mother came under the sway of the group Moms for Liberty is telling his story publicly.
A Vice exposé details how Moms for Liberty went from a local campaign to harass one Florida school board member to a national organization driving the politicization of education in the U.S. in just a few years. The piece also includes the heartbreaking story of one of those LGBTQ+ students, Tony, and his mother, Carolyn, whose last names are withheld to protect their privacy.
As writer David Gilbert reports, after being outed by his boyfriend’s parents in early 2022, Tony was berated by his Southern Baptist mother, who told him he was going to hell and forced him into counseling with their pastor, who told him that being gay was evil.
After Tony’s mental health began a precipitous decline—he reportedly stopped playing baseball, locked himself in his bedroom, and engaged in self-harm—Carolyn briefly consented to allowing him to undergo counseling with the local chapter of LGBTQ+ advocacy organization Rainbow Youth Project.
At the same time, however, Carolyn contacted Moms for Liberty after learning about the anti-LGBTQ+ group on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. For months, the group reportedly bombarded Carolyn with anti-LGBTQ+ misinformation, convincing her that Rainbow Youth Project would “convince Tony to have his private parts removed and changed.”
When Carolyn pulled her son out of counseling with the group, Tony told her, “Mom, you just killed me.” He attempted suicide that same day.
Carolyn continued to engage with Moms for Liberty, receiving a visit from a member of the group’s Austin, Texas chapter who suggested that she sue Rainbow Youth Project for “damaging” her son. Tony’s mental health continued to decline, and a second suicide attempt followed.
“They were trying to indoctrinate me to be a foot soldier for their cause,” Carolyn now says of Moms for Liberty. “Looking back, it was never about Tony. It was about them.”
Crushingly, Tony says that his experience is not unique. He says he knows of at least four other young people who participated in a Rainbow Youth Project virtual peer group “that have been through exactly what I have been, where Moms for Liberty and Fox News have totally pulled their parents into this same trap my mom went through.”
Carolyn now holds Moms for Liberty partially responsible for what the now 19-year-old Tony went through after she found him unconscious on his bedroom floor, overdosing. “I’m responsible because I was literally putting him second to all of this, for lack of a better term, bulls**t, that they were giving to me, and I will never do that again. Ever,” she says.
“They are preying on people and when you have a question and you’re trying to save your kid, they took advantage of me and I honestly believe they do that with other parents.”
Tony said that he and his mother are working on their relationship.
“A lot of people hold her responsible for what happened and she is partially responsible. We’ve had that discussion and she knows how I feel about that,” he said. “But she’s really trying. Our relationship is getting stronger. We’re not there yet, but it’s getting stronger.”
Moms for Liberty’s tactics include relentless harassment, smear campaigns, and even threats of violence that are driving more moderate officials off local school boards and pro-LGBTQ+ educators out of the education system across the country, leading at least in part to a teacher shortage that is threatening schools.
As one California school board member told Vice, the group is “inciting people with conspiracy theories and inflammatory accusations about grooming that put trustees, teachers, and LGBTQ students in real danger.”
Editor’s note: This article mentions suicide. If you need to talk to someone now, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. It’s staffed by trans people, for trans people. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgment-free place to talk for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.