About half of transgender young people will attempt suicide by the time they turn 20. Half. That’s where they turn when faced with the prospect of life in a society that doesn’t accept them, of being the butt of jokes in movies and stand-up routines (transphobia! Wow, that’s some ground-breaking material) – and of course, of being mistreated and isolated by the family who should have loved and supported them. If you’re not prepared to have a child who is transgender, gay, bisexual, or otherwise queer, maybe parenting is not for you.
Before dawn on Sunday, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn of Ohio was struck and killed by a truck while walking on a major highway a few miles from her house. Alcorn, who was assigned male at birth, left behind a heartbreaking suicide note on her Tumblr, explaining that she could no longer stand living in a world where her parents were allowed to prevent her from transitioning, to isolate her from her friends and pull her out of public school, to send her to so-called ‘therapists’ who told her that she “was selfish and wrong and that [she] should look to God for help.” The note starts,
“If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.
Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in”¦ because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally ”boyish” things to try to fit in.
When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me…”
Some people have used Alcorn’s death to call out for more legislative bans on the sort of ‘conversion therapy’ that she was subjected to (it’s currently only illegal in California and New Jersey). I certainly wouldn’t say no to making it illegal to impose this kind of cruelty on minor children, but even banning this kind of thing won’t solve the underlying issue: parents who are incapable of handling the fact that their child is not cis and/or straight.
We have all let Leelah Alcorn down, by asking her to live in the kind of society where women like her are treated like less-than, and we should all be angry about the status quo we’ve established. We can do better. We have to do better, because Leelah Alcorn will not be the last child born to parents who reject who she is. Because Leelah Alcorn will not be the last young person who will have to look elsewhere for the help and support she should have gotten at home.
Alcorn’s mother, Carla Wood Alcorn, took to Facebook to eulogize her late daughter. Her Facebook has since been locked down, but Cincinnati.com reports the text of the post before it was deleted:
My sweet 16-year-old son, Joshua Ryan Alcorn, went home to Heaven this morning. He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck. Thank you for the messages and kindness and concern you have sent our way. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.
I’m not the praying sort, but if you are, the sort of prayers most needed right now are, I think, that other transgender youth find the support system they need. And if you are able to put your money where your prayers are, Leelah Alcorn requested that her savings and any money resulting from the sale of her possessions be donated to trans civil rights and support groups. Based on her mother’s Facebook post the odds of that happening don’t seem great, but the rest of us can make donations to the Kaleidoscope Youth Center or Trans Lifeline in Leelah’s honor. It’s literally the least we can do.