Early in the morning of the 28th of December, a 17-year-old trans woman by the name of Leelah Alcorn was struck and killed by a semi-truck on Interstate 71 near Union Township, Ohio. At 5:30 p.m., hours after the accident, a post by Alcorn automatically posted to her Tumblr page. The note – displayed on a light pink with a pixilated unicorn cat in the background – was titled, simply, “Suicide Note.”
“I have decided I’ve had enough,” wrote Alcorn in her suicide note. “There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse. That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me.”
Also in this post, she discussed her life with her parents, a heartbreaking story of rejection.
“When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness,” wrote Alcorn. “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.”
According to Alcorn, her parents chose to isolate her, taking away her laptop and phone, and removed her from public school. She was also forbidden from going to a gender therapist, instead being sent to Christian-based conversion therapists.
“I only got more Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help,” wrote Alcorn.
Just before noon of the 28th of December, Carla Alcorn, Leelah’s mother, posted to her Facebook page, letting family and friends know that her “son… went home to heaven this morning.” She did not know that Leelah’s Tumblr – and another post by her on Reddit some time before – would give a very different tale later that day.
In the wake of Leelah Alcorn’s death, her parents have been called onto CNN and elsewhere, speaking about the “son” that the loved “no matter what,” but how they did not support her transition for religious reasons. These are the same parents who have since gotten Leelah’s Tumblr account wiped clean, erasing her last wishes to “fix society”
“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was,” wrote Alcorn. “They’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something.”
Leelah Alcorn’s passing has shook the transgender community to its foundations. We’re all upset, we are all grieving, and we’re all angry. After a year of having an increase of trans visibility and legal protections comes a death that we were powerless to prevent – and equally as powerless to prevent her family from further erasing her chosen identity.
“Concern trolls” have come out of the woodwork, telling people that we should not share her last words as it could potentially encourage others to follow her lead. Meanwhile, other trolls have been jamming transgender suicide hotlines, continuing a brutal online campaign to force transgender people to commit suicide that was born out of the some of the dimmer passageways on the Internet.
“My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year,” wrote Alcorn. “I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it.”
She’s right. It is f-ked up. It needs to be fixed.
I talk about anti-transgender murders quite a lot – but stories like this highlight that suicide is just as much an epidemic within the transgender community. A study from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law at the beginning of last year showed that 41% of transgender or gender nonconforming people have attempted suicide at some point. That is nine times the national average. The percentage rises even higher for those who face homelessness, or have turned away from medical care for being transgender. Important to note that this same study also showed a decrease for those who had strong ties with a supportive family.
Leelah’s parents may well be a lost cause. They loved their son so much that they were willing to lose their daughter. They’ve chosen to pretend that this entire, vital part of their child’s life simply did not exist. I suppose that’s their right to do, too, even through I personally feel they were plenty culpable in her death.
There are a great many other parents out there however, and a whole lot more young trans people of all stripes that need support and need help. It is up to all of us to reach our hand out and do so.
Our community needs to look ahead. We need to look for ways we can help provide a nurturing, supportive environment for our youth. How can we reach out for the next Leelah Alcorn, give them hope, and provide for them the strength to carry on.
We also need to do what we can to stand with our larger LGBT community and together see an end of conversion therapy that seeks to “pray away the gay.” These same therapists are preying on us as much as they prey on our lesbian, gay, and bi youth.
We need to fix it. Not just in Leelah Alcorn’s memory, but for every other young transgender person.
By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
Gwen Smith wants more lives to celebrate, not mourn. You’ll find her at @gwenners on Twitter