The apparent suicide of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender girl from Ohio who documented her struggle and loneliness online, is galvanizing a movement against transphobia.
Several vigils are planned in the U.S. and Canada for Friday and Saturday; petitions calling for Alcorn's family to use her chosen name on her headstone and for President Barack Obama to seek a pathway toward banning so-called "transgender conversion therapy" have attracted many thousands of supporters; and the hashtag #LeelahAlcorn is drawing social media attention to the trauma and stigma that transgender young people face on a regular basis.
According to the national Youth Suicide Prevention Program, more than 50 percent of transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday.
Alcorn was struck by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 71 around 2:15 a.m. on Sunday, about four miles from her home in the tiny town of Kings Mills, northeast of Cincinnati.
In a note programmed to publish on Tumblr after her death, Alcorn wrote: "If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue." (As of Friday at noon, the Tumblr page had been taken down.)
In the same post, Alcorn said she'd felt like a girl trapped in a boy's body since age 4 and that she "cried of happiness" when, at 14, she learned the term transgender. "After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was," she wrote.
But when she reached out for support, she found none: "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."
Her parents took her out of public school, revoked her tech privileges, and sent her to "Christian therapists"—an experience Alcorn described in a Reddit thread published earlier this year: "[I]nstead of listening to my feelings [they] would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl."
In the Tumblr post published after her death, Alcorn concluded:
After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough," she concluded. "I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. 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.
...My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.
Crossing out the name "Josh," she signed her suicide note "Leelah."
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Alcorn's mother Carla refused to use female pronouns when talking about her teenage child.
"We don't support that, religiously," Alcorn's mother said, referring to Leelah's desire to live as a woman. "But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy."
Online, anger has been directed toward Alcorn's parents. Some, including activist and Savage Love columnist Dan Savage, went as far as to call for them to be prosecuted.
Leelah's note checked parents on intolerance, challenged medical gatekeepers, highlighted power of social media & upheld self-determination.— Janet Mock (@janetmock) December 30, 2014