Family, Friends Mourn Penn State Gender Fluid  Student Lost to Suicide


Update: After this story's publication, a friend of the deceased named Pia Smal contacted The Advocate to state the following:

"Miriam was born female and began to identify as male in 11th grade in high school. At that time, they asked to be called Eli and began the transition process to male. Eli was very supported in this by their family, friends, and at the State College High School. This past fall, Miriam began to understand their gender identity as more gender fluid than transgender and had recently begun asking people to call them Miriam again. Their obituary is a bit confusing to someone who doesn’t know them, because they had not 'come out' as Miriam to everyone yet. I must say, their family acted with such grace during their funeral in inviting people to talk about and refer to Miriam/Eli with the name and pronouns that they knew them as. I hope this clarifies things."

Accordingly, changes have been made to the below report: "Miriam/Eli" replaces the previous first name and "they/their" is now used as a pronoun. This story is developing. Check below for further details.

Family and friends are still mourning the passing of Miriam/Eli Roe, a 22-year-old gender-nonconforming student at Pennsylvania State University, who died by their own hand January 29, according to reports from the Solano Serenity Center and their family’s heartfelt obituary

At the university, Roe was studying rehabilitation and human services, after graduating in 2012 from a high school in the State College, Pa., area. Even as they suffered “bouts of crippling depression,” according to the obituary, Roe exhibited “intelligent wit” and a capacity “to laugh.”

Known for their compassion toward the less fortunate, Roe was a spiritual person who “had a deep yearning for God and longed for others to experience the love of Jesus,” reads their family’s obituary. An advocate for affirmative understandings of transgender people, Roe helped found the Receiving With Thanksgiving organization, a Penn State LGBTQ Christian network that works to foster love and understanding for transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people “who seek to worship Christ.” 

“In 2016 we lost ... Roe, our friend and founding member,” says the organization's website. It goes on to extol Roe's passionate commitment to “creating spaces that welcomed all people regardless of their gender and sexual identity to this Christian space at Penn State.”  

Born in Oxford, England, Roe came to the United States to live in State College when their father, well-regarded British mathematician John Roe, joined the faculty of Penn State. Roe was beloved by their mother, Liane Roe; their older brother, Nathan Roe; their British grandmother, Judy Roe; their American grandmother, Donna Stevens; and their “five aunts and uncles and four cousins,” notes the obituary. 

Roe was reportedly close with their family, often proclaiming that “No one could have had a better family,” according to the obituary. 

Roe was an altruistic young person who worked for the Arc of Centre County, a nonprofit organization in State College that supports individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

A poet, singer, and piano player, in high school they loved helping their peers sew historical costumes for the local Renaissance Fair. They “excelled at designing interactive role-playing events for friends" along with "hiking and being outdoors,” says their obituary.

Further updates: After Pia Smal spoke to The Advocate two other friends of the deceased came forward. 

Ben Wideman, campus pastor of the 3rd Way Collective at Penn State, shared the following in an email:

"On the cover of the program at the funeral, Eli’s parents acknowledged the challenge of pronouns in this space. Some people were classmates of Miriam as she was growing up with a female identity, others walked with Eli as he came out and embraced male pronouns, while others were close enough to know that they were considering a transition to gender fluidity as Miriam and female pronouns. The family urged participants in the memorial to use the pronoun they best knew the person by."

Emily Strauss, a friend of the deceased, shared the following remembrances:

"Eli/Miriam was a person who identified as gender fluid/androgynous at the time of their death, and at the time was going by she/them pronouns. After coming out and living as a transgender man for several years, they had recently come to a greater and more expansive understanding of their gender identity as being more gender fluid, an identity that encompassed both their masculine and feminine characteristics. They had returned to using their birthname, Miriam. However, this had not been expressed to everyone Eli knew at the time of their death. 

Eli's parents were extremely supportive and accepting. The memorial service for Eli was one that placed honesty and authenticity at its heart; they sought to be honest about Eli's struggles, and honest about Eli's gender journey, to honor and value Eli's life for all parts of it, in all its complexity, tragedy, and joy.  They used a mix of pronouns and a mix of names. 

Eli was a beautiful, resilient, compassionate, brilliant, empathetic person who above all else desired for people to be seen and honored for all that they are. I will never stop feeling the absence of them and I will never stop being furious at this world for allowing so many incredible trans young people to feel such despair." 

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at (877) 565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.