On December 28, Leelah Alcorn, a transgender seventeen-year-old from Ohio, committed suicide by jumping in front of a moving vehicle, and her story regarding the struggles of feeling like a girl trapped inside a boy’s quickly surged all over the internet. Before her death, Alcorn posted a suicide note on the social media site Tumblr, begging people to “fix society” for people, like herself, who felt lost and unwelcome. “My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year,” she wrote, explaining her desire for a better future for people struggling with the same problems.
Overall, Alcorn explained in her note that she felt incredibly lonely and that her life did not feel like it was worth living, due to being so ostracised by those around her for being transgender. Alcorn began to feel like a girl at the age of four, but simply lived in confusion of this feeling until the age of fourteen when she discovered the meaning of the word “transgender”. Although she tried to fit in by doing stereotypical male activities and by hiding her gender identity, her emotional turmoil was too much to handle in the end.
While there has been overwhelming support online for transgender equality because of Alcorn’s death, her parents have been highly criticised. Alcorn’s parents refused to let her transition due to their conservative christian views. “We don’t support that, religiously,” Alcorn’s mother told a CNN news reporter. She also stated that she refused to let Alcorn transition because they did not have sufficient finances for transition surgery. Still, she insisted that Alcorn had only mentioned being transgender once, and that they had brought her to counselors for help.
However, in her suicide letter, Alcorn made it clear that her source of depression was the lack of support that she received from her family. Alcorn wrote that when she told her mother, she was told that it was just a phase. “Please don’t tell this to your kids,” Alcorn wrote, “That won’t do anything but make them hate themselves. That’s what it did to me.” She also wrote that all the counselors she visited did not help her problem, but rather discouraged her desire to transition. Plus, Alcorn’s parents decided to homeschool her and to ban her from using social-networking sites in hope that she would change her mind about being transgender. Alcorn claimed this to be one of the most depressing times in her life.
All of these things sparked very emotional reactions from people online. In fact, NBC news reports that the family had to reschedule the funeral to a private location because of how many threats they received. Additionally, there is an online petition with over 55,000 signatures in support for Alcorn’s headstone having the name “Leelah” on it as opposed to her birth name, “Joshua.” In total, many people have voiced their support for transgender people over social media websites, created art about Alcorn, and have even given speeches regarding her death.
Alcorn’s suicide, although started by extreme feelings of depression and alienation, became a whole movement. She truly wanted society to change their perception and treatment of transgender people such as herself. She stated that “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was.“ Alcorn also insisted that gender should be taught in schools to prevent more people from feeling isolated. Finally, in her will, she asked for all of her belongings to be donated to transgender support groups.
For anyone struggling from thoughts of suicide, especially relating to being transgender, there are many resources for support. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and Transgender Lifeline (877-565-8860) are just a few examples. Plenty of support groups are available online as well. Loved ones are crucial during this time, too. Encouraging and accepting friends and relatives are important for support, and for dealing with depressive and suicidal thoughts. Although asking for help can be difficult, there are many people experiencing similar issues, and with the right amount of help, things can improve.
By: Lydia Bashor