The family of a 21-year-old student who killed himself on Monday after a video of him protesting a drag queen storytime event went viral say those who describe him as deeply troubled “never knew him”.
Wilson Gavin was president of the University of Queensland’s conservative Liberal National Club, and led a protest against a kids’ storytelling event with drag queens at Brisbane Square Library on Sunday morning.
Footage of Gavin and about a dozen other students chanting “drag queens are not for kids” was posted to Twitter and quickly went viral. The protest was denounced by senior Liberal National party members (the university club was disaffiliated by the party in December), the University of Queensland Union, and various prominent Australians.
The next morning, Gavin killed himself.
The highly publicised death has been splashed across the front page of Australia’s national newspaper and kicked off heated discussions about social media and mental health.
Gavin’s family released a statement on Thursday afternoon.
“To everyone who knew our son and brother and shared their stories of who Wilson Gavin really was — we thank you,” it read. “To those who have described Wilson as ‘a deeply troubled young man’, including so-called family members — with all due respect — you never knew him.”
The statement, written by Gavin’s father, mother and sisters, addressed many of the discussions that have raged since the news of his death broke on Monday afternoon.
“To anyone who is or was angry with Wilson — we know he regularly got the ‘how’ wrong and occasionally got the ‘what’ wrong. This made us angry with him too,” the family wrote.
They also offered empathy to those who lashed out against Gavin and the other students on social media: “To those who are now regretting words said or typed in anger that may have contributed to another person’s suffering — we know and share your pain all too well.”
The statement also suggested Gavin had been let down by his mentors.
“To young, politically motivated people of all persuasions — we implore you to seek kind and wise mentors who will guide you, and not use you or wash their hands of you when you no longer serve their purposes.”
The statement offered “love and support” to the LGBTQ community, and respect and gratitude to the police and emergency services staff.
Gavin was a conservative student activist, a staunch monarchist, a Catholic and a gay man who campaigned against same-sex marriage during Australia’s postal survey in 2017.
In their statement, his family said Gavin contributed in ways “not many knew about”, noting that he volunteered at a soup kitchen and often gave money to homeless people.
“We respected the unwavering strength of his convictions and desire to make the world better,” they wrote. “Wil worked tirelessly for causes without personal gain, gratitude, or in some cases, loyalty.
“We remember him as a devoted and loving son and brother. We will love him, always and will be forever grateful he was part of our family.”
If you or someone you know needs help, you can call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue Australia on 1300 22 4636.