Com­ing Out Se­ries

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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.’”

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