Transgender community, allies unite to push Leelah’s Law

Hanh Pham, Editor

lelaiBack in late December, a transgender teen, Leelah Alcorn (born Josh Alcorn), committed suicide due to the disapproval of her devout parents, and the inability to see a future in which she could live as she wanted to.

Her death caused people across the nation to hold vigils and memorials in Leelah’s name, and has even sparked a movement to end conversion therapy, which is a treatment meant to convert someone homosexual to heterosexual, or in this case, to prevent people from identifying as a different gender. Two petitions were created to urge the government to pass “Leelah’s Law,” which would stop conversion therapy from occurring in the future.

Before her death, she posted a suicide note on Tumblr, although her parents have since deleted the post. In her note, she said that “after 10 years of confusion, I finally understood who I was, [and] immediately told my mom.”

Leelah proceeds to describe how her parents reacted “extremely negatively,” and sent her to Christian therapists who told her that she was “selfish and wrong and that [she] should look to God for help.” She then shares that her parents pulled her from school and took away any mode of communication with the outside world, including contacting her friends.

Leelah concludes her letter with a call to fix society, which has prompted an outpouring of support and the effort to create Leelah’s Law. In her note, Leelah said, “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was….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 f***ed up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

Leelah was born to Carla and Don Alcorn, and was labeled male at birth. She realized she was transgender at 14-years-old, and came out as gay in school to ease her peers and family into becoming more accepting. At 16-years-old, she realized her parents would never let her transition, and decided to wait until she was 18, when she would be legally allowed to undergo hormone therapy herself. However, the pressure and lack of understanding caused Leelah to become depressed, and she committed suicide. Even after her death, Leelah’s parents continued to misgender her, referring to her as “Josh,” “he,” “him,” and “son.”

In a survey performed by the federal government, it was established that around 41 percent of transgender or others with gender dysphoria attempted suicide in their lifetime. This number is nine times the national average. Organizations like PFLAG, the Trevor Project, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and the Human Rights Campaign have worked to mitigate the discrimination against the LGBT+ community. All of these groups support LGBT teens, and PFLAG works to help families who are unsure of how to support their children. One of the primary supporters of transgender individuals is the Transgender Human Rights Institute. Their page can be located on Facebook, releasing updates on both injustice and progress in the transgender rights movement.

Recently, they published an infographic that illustrates the lack of rights for people who are transgender: the map shows that in all states but California, it is legal to cite “trans-panic.” Basically, this means that it is “legal to argue in a court of law that a transgender person is to blame for your decision to murder them.”

Current Events
Last year, 12 trans women were murdered in the US, and take into account that this number does not reflect deaths that go unreported, or count people who have been misgendered after their death. According to the organization that sponsors the Transgender Day of Remembrance , which falls on Nov. 20, in the 21st Century, “more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives.” As the TDOR predicted, this trend has not abated.

Within 2015, there have already been eight known deaths of  trans women, as linked and listed below. Seven of the eight are already confirmed to be murders, and Sumaya Ysl’s death is still under investigation.

Lamia Beard. Taja Dejeus. Penny Proud. Ty Underwood. Yasmin Vash Payne. B. Golec. Kristina Gomez Reinwald. Sumaya Ysl.

Recently, there has been more representation of trans women, including Laverne Cox. But that doesn’t mean that the erasure of trans women has stopped, and it doesn’t mean the problem is solved. In the months of January and February, the death count of trans women are already about to reach the total amount of murders in 2014.

If you’ve heard of these murders in mainstream media, not including social media, I would be surprised. If you haven’t heard of them anywhere, I would be (emphatically) not surprised. At a time like this, when Oklahoma is pushing to protect conversion therapy and Kentucky is trying to pass a “Bathroom Bill,” which would legalize fining transgender individuals for using gender appropriate bathrooms, we need to rally behind legislations that will prevent conversion therapy (such as those in California and New Jersey).

Leelah’s Law is extremely important to keep in mind right now. In late February, there was news that another trans teenager has committed suicide. Zander Mahaffey posted a note on tumblr on Feb. 18, describing the abuse he has experienced in the hands of his family members. Zander, born Sandra Nicole, was a self-described “anime weeb,” who hated math, but loved singing, video games, reading, and drawing. His favorite anime was Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, and his favorite video game was The World Ends with You. Zander proceeds to direct a message to each of his loved ones, before he ends the note with an apology.

He said, in the suicide note, “I’m selfish, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry that I only think about myself in this situation. I know there’s going to be people hurt and devastated by this. And I’m so, so, sorry about that. I don’t know what else to say. I’m just so tired, I’m so tired and I just want to go to sleep.”

If you got through the, approximately, 3000 word message, you might be upset and emotional as I am right now. You might feel sorry, or frustrated. In all probability, you might not even be remotely upset, or you blame the victim for being “weak” enough to commit suicide (which is shockingly common). In which case you’re probably privileged enough to never have experienced a problem like this.

About Zander
Zander was 15-years-old. Leelah wasn’t much older. Imagine how hard it is to experience a disparity between the way the world wants you to be, and how you perceive yourself. Imagine having to undergo that confusion, while dealing with everything you’re going through right now – and worse. Because that is what transgender teens like Zander and Leelah have to face. We need to get over the idea that everyone’s family life is perfect, that parents always know what is right for their children, that people who commit suicide are cowards. These are privileged and harmful ideas – you cannot prescribe your own judgement on someone who is living a completely different life. I can personally attest to the fact that family members can be toxic. Sympathy and empathy are key in situations like these.

Unfortunately, this is not an easy problem to deal with – I’m not transgender, and I don’t have this experience, but it’s a fact that this uphill struggle has been happening for a while now. We can localize this topic though, by becoming aware; show that you’ll respect one’s right to determine their own identity, and that you’ll accept them just the way they are.

Another way to contribute to the movement as an ally is actively searching out news about what is occurring in the transgender community, and continuing to discuss it. Talking about the murders and the injustice dealt to both young and older transgender individuals is essential to ensuring that the issue is recognized as current and tangible. Sign petitions if you can, donate money if you can, do anything that keeps it prominent.

Things have gotten too far to push this movement backward, to allow it to worsen, to let these individuals fall through the cracks. We don’t want it to get to this point:: to have to recognize more transgender people in death than we support them while they’re still living.