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  WINDY CITY TIMES

PASSAGES Leelah Alcorn
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2014-12-30

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A transgender teenager committed suicide in Ohio on Dec. 28, stepping in front of a moving tractor trailer truck. Leelah Alcorn was killed by the passing semitrailer on southbound Interstate 71 in Union Township.

Alcorn left a gripping, emotional suicide note on her blog at Tumblr, detailing a troubled life, dominated by Christian parents who rejected their transgender child.

"Please don't be sad, it's for the better," Alcorn wrote. "The life I would've lived isn't worth living in … because I'm transgender. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy's body, and I've felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally 'boyish' things to try to fit in."

Alcorn wrote that she learned what transgender meant at age 14, "and cried of happiness." But when she told her mom, "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," she wrote."

In the 964-word suicide note, Alcorn said that she wanted 100 percent "of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money ( plus my money in the bank ) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups."

Alcorn ended the note stating, "The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was, [but rather], they're treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year."

Alcorn closed the note saying "Goodbye," and signed the letter ( Leelah ) Josh Alcorn—and drew a line through her birth name.

Alcorn's death naturally sparked a social media frenzy, and it certainly hit hard in the LGBT community.

"The story is absolutely heartbreaking," said Anthony Nicodemo, an out gay high school basketball coach in New York. "All of our youth need to know they have [a] place to turn and people who will support them. The larger issues are consistently the adults. Education is truly needed on all levels. Hopefully this will prevent tragic stories like this in the future."

Christina Kahrl, a transgender sportswriter based in Chicago, said Alcorn's death was a "tragic situation [that] reflects so many failures. The virtues of faith and family usually provide love that most children take for granted. This was avoidable; transness shouldn't handicap anyone's capacity for empathy."

Brielle Harrison, a transgender female software engineer for Facebook, based in Northern California, was one of many who voiced her thoughts on Facebook. She wrote, "Please don't let bigotry, pride, lack of understanding and/or religion drive you to shun your transgender children to suicide or torment. This is something they are born with. It isn't a fad or a form of rebellion. They need your love and support."

Harrison added, "Neither God nor any camp or therapist will 'fix' this. If you want to believe that God put them there for a reason, then believe they are here to further civil rights and possibly to broaden your horizons."

Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she had a "heartbroken, not-again feeling" after hearing about Alcorn's death.

"What Leelah has given us is, a real way to individualize this crisis that we are having with transgender people, especially transgender youth [who are] being so marginalized, so alienated," Keisling said. "We know this happens so frequently. Sometimes the kids survive. Too often, they don't."

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey ( NTDS ) reported in January 2014 that transgender respondents who experienced rejection by family and friends, discrimination, victimization, or violence have a higher risk of attempting suicide. The report said that 78 percent of survey respondents who suffered physical or sexual violence at school reported suicide attempts, as did 65 percent of respondents who experienced violence at work.

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey ( NTDS ) was conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

In late 2010, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released a survey that 41 percent of transgender people in the U.S. have attempted suicide.

"It is a huge epidemic that is so absolutely horribly outrageous," Keisling said.

From Transgender Law Center

Masen Davis of the Transgender Law Center released this personal statement: "My heart weighs heavily from news of three recent suicides by trans youth in the Midwest. While others are celebrating the New Year, my thoughts and prayers are with youth across the Heartland who are struggling for acceptance and wellbeing. It's not easy to be transgender especially in communities and families that cling to conformity. I know that first-hand as a transgender man who grew up in a conservative Midwestern family. Years before I heard the term 'transgender,' I experienced abuse, rejection, and neglect for being different. Life was hard, and there were days and years that felt absolutely intolerable. I don't talk much about that time of my life, but I felt it was important to share. Because today I am a #RealLiveTransAdult and I love my life. I am so grateful that I survived those first 18 years so I could become the person I am today—someone who is loved, respected, and happy. Life still isn't always easy and everyone's path is different. But I know first-hand that individual and community support can make the world of difference in someone's life. So, if you're struggling, please know you're not alone. Reach out for help—go to a support group, talk to a friend, or call the Trevor Project Lifeline (866-488-7386). And if you are a parent of a gender-creative or transgender child, please let them know you love and accept them (even if you may not always understand them), and get support from groups like Gender Spectrum (genderspectrum.org) . Be good to each other, folks."

NCLR Statement on the Loss of Leelah Alcorn

(San Francisco, CA, January 2, 2015)—Vigils will be held in Ohio tomorrow to remember 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn and to raise support and acceptance for transgender youth.

Alcorn, from the Cincinnati suburb of Kings Mills, took her own life early Sunday morning after facing years of rejection and enduring the dangerous practice known as conversion therapy.

"We are deeply saddened by Leelah's tragic death," said National Center for Lesbian Rights Youth Policy Director Shannan Wilber, Esq. "Like countless LGBT youth across this country, Leelah struggled with the anguish and isolation of navigating a world in which her core identity was erased and rejected. Despite the gains we have achieved in securing the equal rights of LGBT people in many arenas, too many of our children continue to suffer the ravages of intolerance and bigotry. They are rejected at home, bullied at school, and condemned at church. They are subjected to discredited and dangerous interventions designed to change their core identities. They are abandoned by the institutions charged with ensuring their safety and well-being. It is impossible to make sense of the senseless loss of a child. But this tragedy strengthens our resolve to create a world in which all children are cherished and supported to become their authentic selves."

NCLR started its Youth Project more than two decades ago to ensure the safety and well-being of LGBT youth at home, in school, and in public systems of care through litigation, policy advocacy, and systemic reform. The project prioritizes full integration and affirmation of transgender youth, fair and equal treatment of LGBT youth in out-of-home care, and ending conversion therapy through NCLR's #BornPerfect campaign.


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