Coming Out Series
Who is Leelah Alcorn?
“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 themself. That’s exactly what it did to me.”
- Leelah Alcorn
In the first two parts of our “Coming Out Series,” we talked about how to be a supportive parent, how to react in tough conversations, and how difficult it is, especially for teens, to feel comfortable becoming who they truly are. We’ve touched on the isolation one can feel, how some resort to self- medicating to cope with life’s challenges, conversion therapy, and the societal rejection they experience on a daily basis. We explored the alarming statistics on suicide rates in the LGBTQ+ community and this month, we’re sharing the story of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender female teen who has devastatingly proven the accuracy of those statistics.
Leelah was a young woman from Ohio who, in 2016, walked in front of traffic on a busy highway. After being sent to a conversion camp by her parents, she couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and decided to take her own life. As adults, most of us have the perspective and life experience to know that the tough times eventually pass and we have the power to take control of difficult situations. If we don’t feel supported by the family we are born into, we can find a community or group of like- minded individuals for support and to know we’re not alone. However, most teens haven’t had the opportunity to figure that out.
Leelah was assigned male at birth and named Joshua Alcorn. She was born to a seemingly average family, they attended church, loved their children, and tried to raise them according to their personal beliefs. At fourteen, Leelah discovered what “transgender” meant and everything fell into place. All the confusion she felt, all the years of trying to fit into a persona she wasn’t meant to be, it was finally over. She had found a way to become the woman she was meant to be.
When Leelah came out as transgender to her mother, it wasn’t met with love and acceptance, but rather with scorn. There was no gray area when it came to God’s word: she was living an immoral life, confused, and needed to be sent away to learn how to be a “normal” boy again.
It is estimated that roughly 20,000 LGBTQ+ adolescents, between the ages of 13 and 17, will be sent to conversion therapy before they turn 18. In these therapy sessions, they will be subjected to isolation, hormone treatments, and even electroshock therapy in an attempt to “cure” them. If this isn’t horrifying enough, some individuals have even been subjected to electric shock to their genitals, while nausea- inducing drugs are administered. The United Nations Torture Committee has publicly recognized conversion therapy as a form of torture, but people are trying to pass it off as a helpful and effective treatment.
As parents, it’s hard to even begin to imagine someone causing our children harm. Just thinking about it is enough to make one’s blood boil. It is unfathomable to see that there are parents who not only send their kids to these camps and therapies, but they are actually paying someone to torture their child, all under the guise of “treatment.” It is heartbreaking how one’s personal beliefs somehow make it ok to treat people this way. Parenting is supposed to be about love, understanding, and acceptance, not forcing one’s child into a predetermined ideal.
Leelah’s parents have made limited statements, however, those few statements spoke louder than any public announcement ever could. Even in death, her mother referred to her as “Joshua,” her son.
“We don’t support that, religiously,” Alcorn’s mother told the media. “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.”
The backlash was intense. Hundreds, if not thousands of people wrote about it, Twitter was a firestorm of hashtags supporting the transgender community, but how has this affected change? One of Leelah’s final statements was a call to arms, “My death needs to mean something. 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 f*** ed up.’”