If missed the news story, you may not have heard that Leelah Alcorn was a 17-year-old trans female who took her life on December 28, 2014. Before she died, Leelah expressed on Tumblr that she was suffering from depression and dealing with rejection from her parents about her identity. Leelah represents many in the transgender community who face hate, inequality, and loneliness simply for being who they are. Leelah’s life mattered.
This is the story of far too many people.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 42% of transwomen and 46% of transmen will attempt suicide in their lifetime. Reasons for this may include exclusion, rejection, and low self esteem. In her final note, Leelah wrote, “My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. Fix society. Please.” The prominent thought of suicide amongst transgender people does not end with Leelah Alcorn. Leelah’s story is just one of many transgender people who will end their life because society taught them to hate who they are. As an ally, it’s important to not just stand by and be a part of the hateful words that the trans community will come to get used to in their lifetime. Show them love.
Someone’s gender is identified by them, not you.
Leelah expressed that her parents did not accept that she was a woman. She wrote, “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.” One of the most common issues that the transgender community faces is that others believe that they have the right to use their own labels to identify trans people. I had the honor of speaking to someone within the trans community who is not out yet to the public. They said, “I am not out to my family for fear of their reactions. My grandparents, for example, refer to our neighbor (who is trans) as “it” or they will misgender them purposely. It’s hard to live in a house where that is the common belief. It’s hard to hear how they truly feel about the trans community because, ultimately, they are talking about me without knowing it.” Calling someone by their preferred pronouns is something that can really affect the lives of trans people. It shows huge support in such a simple way.
Suicide is never the answer to create change.
The suicide of Leelah is one that echoes the notion that suicide is the best way to help others realize that a problem is occurring. Being a cisgendered women, which means I identify with the gender I was assigned with at birth, I will never fully understand Leelah’s feelings and what she was going through. I can only imagine what it would be like through informing myself on these issues by listening to the brave stories of those in the trans community. However, what I do understand is that suicide will not change the world. The best thing one can do is to be unapologetically themselves through everything. As allies, our job is to support others through the rough times and celebrate the good times. Jane Clementi, mother of Tyler Clementi said it best. “The only way to make a difference in this world — to truly change hearts and minds — is through celebrating and accepting every life.”
If you are a transgender person who needs help, these hotlines are for you.
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860
Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Crisis Text Line: Text “Start” to 741741
If you would like to honor Leelah’s last wish of supporting trans organizations, you can donate here:
The Trevor Project: Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.
The National Center for Transgender Equality: Dedicated to advancing the equality of transgender people through advocacy, collaboration and empowerment