She called herself Leelah Alcorn, and now people around the world who never knew the girl from Kings Mills, Ohio, have turned her name into a rallying cry against transgender conversion therapy. Their goal is to make her final wish a reality: “Fix Society. Please.”
Hours after the 17-year old transgender teenager from suburban Cincinnati stepped in front of a tractor trailer early Sunday, a new entry appeared as scheduled on her lazerprincess blog on tumblr, titled Suicide Note, followed by another post topped with one word in all caps: SORRY.
In her suicide note, Alcorn explained how her parents punished her for coming out to them as trans at age 14, and how they would only take her to “Christian therapists” to treat her depression.
"People say 'it gets better' but that isn't true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse," Alcorn wrote.
At the bottom, she crossed out her birth name, yet her parents, school officials and local news media continue to refer to her as Joshua Ryan Alcorn.
In fact, Alcorn’s mother first posted word of the tragedy on Facebook Sunday afternoon, referring to her child as her “sweet 16 year old son.” In the post, which was removed but not before being reposted by other tumblr users, she wrote “Joshua Ryan Alcorn went home to heaven this morning. He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck.”
But once Leelah's scheduled post went live on tumblr, WCPO-TV reported Ohio Highway Patrol officials announced they are investigating the 2:30 a.m. accident as a suicide.
Word of Alcorn’s suicide, her foiled desire to transition, and her motivation for taking her own life spread like wildfire across social media Tuesday, highly trending under the hashtag #LeelahAlcorn. A support page was launched on Facebook, Justice for Leelah Alcorn. Transgender community icons Jennifer Finney Boylan, Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Fallon Fox tweeted messages of support, love and help that is available to anyone with gender identity issues, questions or concerns.
Tuesday night, WLWT-TV reported Kings High School held a moment of silence before a basketball game, before which an announcer asked those gathered to remember “Josh” as a “tender-hearted young man.”
Alcorn’s stated preference was to be remembered as Leelah: “I’m transgender… I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4… When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was.”
Alcorn wrote that her mom “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.”
Troubled by her identity and looking to rebel, Alcorn wrote how she came out as gay in high school as a first step, to “ease” into revealing her gender dysphoria. She said her friends reacted positively, but her “parents were pissed,” she blogged. “They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight [C]hristian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.”
Alcorn’s plea urging parents not to use religion as a tool to discourage their children from embracing their identities clearly struck a chord, coming as it does at a very challenging time for anyone with gender dysphoria and a non-supportive family.
Transgender activist Jennifer Louise Lopez said research by her group, Everything Transgender in New York City (ETNYC), found a 58 percent family rejection rate toward transgender people who come out of the closet and a 41 percent suicide rate. "The suicide of Ms. Alcorn tells us that we will have a lot of work to do in the community to greatly reduce these statistics," Lopez said.
“The only way I will rest in peace,” Alcorn wrote, “is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, 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. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it.”
There is now a change.org petition aimed at doing just that, by enacting what is being called Leelah’s Law. The Transgender Human Rights Institute, based in Princeton, N.J., issued a news release on the transviolencetracker.org website: “We the petitioners call upon the President of the United State Barack Obama, and the Leadership of the House and Senate to immediately seek a pathway for banning the practice known as 'transgender conversion therapy'. We ask that you name the bill in memory of Leelah as the Leelah's Alcorn Law and protect the lives of transgender youth.”
The organization cites several leading authorities who have taken a stand against conversion therapy, including the National Association of Social Workers, who wrote that it “cannot and will not change sexual orientation.”
At presstime, the petition had more than 93,000 signatures. Another petition, calling for Alcorn's headstone to bear her chosen name, has more than 36,000 names attached.
Scrolling through Alcorn’s blog, which dates back to 2011, a reader gets a hint at the bright future that might have been Leelah’s: she was attracted to men but supported her lesbian sisters and feminist policies, and she posted only a handful of selfies showing her modeling clothing that matched her gender identity.
Her grief-stricken parents, who have asked for prayers, have been targeted viciously for their public misgendering of their child as well as for what Alcorn cites as their refusal to support her transition. But none of the attacks is as direct and clear as Leelah’s own.
On tumbler, she re-blogged feminist-fangirl’s December 9th post, “How to Deal with Your Kid Being Trans
“1. buy them new clothes and other accessories to make them feel more comfortable
2. slam dunk the old clothes into the nearest donation center where they belong
3. respect your child’s identity and use whatever name and pronouns they want you to use
it’s really not hard”
And at the bottom of her list of apologies, she wrote: “Mom and Dad: Fuck you. You can’t just control other people like that. That’s messed up.”