Leelah Alcorn, born Joshua Ryan Alcorn, made national headlines just over a month ago when she committed suicide on Dec. 28, 2014. Leelah struggled with identity her whole life. She was sent to conservative Christian and conversion therapists when her parents could no longer accept her inner confusion. Her feelings about her own identity were marginalized by those around her to the point where she thought she “was never going to be happy.” Leelah’s death gained national attention when her suicide note was published on her blog later that day; Leelah was transgender.
Though tragic, Leelah’s death sparked a discussion among the transgender community and transgender rights in the media that haven’t yet been adressed. It added fuel to the fire in the LGBTQ community when Leelah’s parents put out public statements that continued to misidentify and misgender Leelah even after her suicide.
In my opinion, the recent national attention has brought progress to the transgender community. After her suicide, Leelah became the catalyst for a movement against transgender silence and for transgender rights. There is even a petition called “Leelah’s Law” to ban conversion therapy. In addition, a new show on Amazon Prime called “Transparent” is about a transgender mother, and the series won two Golden Globes, for “Best Comedy Series” and “Best Actor in a Comedy Series.” The creator of the show, Jill Soloway, thanked her own transparent during her speech, who inspired her to make the show. It beautifully illustrates a colorful cast of characters and a woman going through her transition later in life, as an adult. In her acceptance speech, Soloway also gave a shout out to Leelah and all other transgender teens who are struggling with their identities.
In 2014, Laverne Cox—a transgender actress on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black”—gained massive popularity for her acting and storyline. The transgender community has really gathered around to support her presence in pop culture. Laverne has been very outspoken about her gender identity and fighting for transgender rights. There are people in the transgender community truly making a name for themselves and stepping outside of the boxes society puts them in.
I find it horribly depressing that it took a teen suicide to launch so much media attention, especially one as preventable as Leelah’s. That said, I can’t help but feel hopeful about the conversations being had about transgender teens. It’s not an easy topic. Even my parents—who are relatively progressive when it comes to modern social issues—feel uncomfortable with the idea of transgender people.
When people like Leelah get so much national attention, progress is made. Just recently, in his State of the Union Address, President Obama announced a new plan to extend workplace protection to transgender federal employees. That’s a huge step for the transgender community—one that should be followed up with more support and more steps forward.
It would be so easy to forget about Leelah Alcorn or any other transgender teen who has ended their life. Society has a way of jumping from one issue to the next and ignoring things that happened before. This can’t be a problem that society has to keep re-learning. Let transgender suicide end with Leelah, and let her voice and suicide note speak for the changes that need to be made in society. Her thoughts reflect the thoughts of countless other teens going through a similar situation.
It’s important to talk about the transgender community. It’s important to normalize it into our vocabulary and everyday lives, so that someday, my parents might not feel uncomfortable when the topic is brought up at dinner. Alienating transgender people from society by making them seem so completely different and unfamiliar damages the self-esteem of countless transgender teens. The transgender community has been kept waiting too long for their justice and equal rights. It’s time that their voices be heard.
Photo Courtesy of the Trevor Project