All too often, the stigmas against and the misunderstanding of non-binary gender and sexual identities creates unsafe environments for young people. Leelah Alcorn was a 17-year-old American transgender girl who tragically committed suicide on Dec. 28. After Alcorn left her parent’s home in Kings Mills, Ohio, she walked approximately 4 miles to Interstate 71, where she walked in front of an oncoming tractor-trailer.
Before ending her life, Alcorn wrote a suicide note on Tumblr. The note—which has now been deleted as per her parents’ request—was reposted on Tumblr more than 200,000 times.
In her note, Alcorn expressed feeling that life “isn’t worth living … because I’m transgender.” Alcorn voiced that she had felt like “a girl trapped in a boy’s body” from a very young age. Once she realized there was a term for this feeling, she began to identify as a transgender female.
After refusing to accept their daughter’s gender identity, Carla and Doug Alcorn sent her to Christian conversion therapy, a practice which aims to convince a transgender person to identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. The practice of conversion therapy has been deemed dangerous and futile by both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.
No transgender person should ever be brainwashed into forced identification with their assigned gender, just as no homosexual person should be brainwashed into becoming heterosexual. Conversion therapy may have further contributed to Alcorn’s depression and eventually her suicide.
As a parent, one is supposed to ensure their child’s well-being. In this case, Carla and Doug Alcorn attempted to brainwash their daughter vis-a-vis conversion therapy. Although some families might not necessarily agree with their children identifying as transgender, there are better ways to overcome that obstacle than to send them to these dangerous, unsupportive therapies.
Following the death of Alcorn, many activists were moved and began promoting a petition on Change.org called Leelah’s Law. A federal law is being petitioned that calls for the prohibition of dangerous conversion therapies used on LGBTQ+ minors.
Prior to this awful incident I, a cisgender heterosexual male, recognized that life for transgender people is indeed difficult, but it is even more terrifying and isolating than a cisgender individual can ever imagine. As Alcorn’s story spreads all over the Internet, it emphasizes the need for individuals to start researching gender identity. Everyone should become more understanding of and educated on the topic, and learn how cisgender people can become respectful allies.
Sex and gender are complicated terms; I doubt that most of the American public is an expert on the topic, and complete acceptance and understanding will not be immediate. The invalidation of lives and identities––especially of minors––however, is dangerous to our society. We should all work to create a space that is free of transphobia and discrimination.