At the start of his senior in high school, Joshua York was struggling with being gay, not wanting his parents to know, and making connections with others like himself. He had many friends, but still felt isolated. After connecting with someone on a dating app, he was raped on their first meeting. He did not want to press charges as he wanted to focus on his senior year and getting into the college. We honored his wishes.
He was also having issues with body image and had corrective chest surgery in the spring of his senior year. Unfortunately, he was not happy with the results and continued to have self-image issues.
We talked a lot about therapy, but he did not want to talk to anyone, so we didn’t force him. We did, however, reach out to a family friend, a member of the LGBT community, who was able to help him in ways that we could not. He became more confident and seemed more accepting of himself. He was also able to meet and connect with other LGBT individuals and gain a sense of community and belonging.
In August, 2016 he went off to college at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. By the end of September, he was having suicidal thoughts and went to a counselor on campus. Per school policy, he was taken by ambulance to the ER in town and the counselor called to inform us of his status. He was feeling isolated, homesick, and continued to have body image and self-worth issues.
After considerable research, we found a qualified therapist, but it was a 22 minute drive each way. Like many colleges, JMU freshman are not permitted to have a car on campus, so he had to coordinate and pay for transportation as well. In addition to his class load, he now had the stress of keeping up with therapy appointments as well as trying to get us the right information so we could coordinate with the health insurance company to help pay the bills.
Late in his first semester, he met the love of his life and introduced him to us. They went on spring break and spent as much time together as they could with one living in DC and the other in Harrisonburg. Josh continued with therapy and even wrote a paper on rape. He was able to share his experiences with his classmates and help others through encouragement and support.
That summer, Josh moved in with his partner and still spent lots of time visiting and vacationing with family and friends. He also found time for self-improvement and earned his Real Estate License at the age of 19. He was thriving in every way.
For his sophomore year (2017-2018), Josh transferred to University of Maryland College Park and finished on the Dean’s List. At the end of that school year, his partner bought a house and they moved a little closer to campus (and family). They were both so excited and happy. Life seemed perfect.
We had a Fourth of July party at our house that summer (2018), where he told us how happy he was, that he had no regrets, that he appreciated us as parents for all we had done to give him a happy childhood. He was feeling accomplished and happy; he was closing on his first house within the next week.
On July 28, 2018, just three weeks later, he took his own life. Something must have triggered his memory of the rape, because he’d been talking about it earlier that day. This is not uncommon in survivors of sexual assault. Unfortunately, whatever he was thinking or feeling at the time is forever unknown and we are no longer able to help Josh.
However, we can help people like Josh and we are doing so through The Joshua York Legacy Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization we started in August 2018, just one month after losing him to suicide. Our organization is dedicated to suicide prevention through outreach, education, and improving mental healthcare accessibility.
Josh was even more loved than we had known; the funeral procession was over a mile long. We knew he had a winning personality and was as fun as he was intelligent, but we didn’t know how deeply he had touched so many lives through his kindness and compassion. And he was truly loved and supported by his partner. Knowing that – that he loved and was loved, truly and deeply – helps to provide some comfort to our memories.