The only reason that you or I or pretty much anyone else knows about Leelah Alcorn’s story is because she had the prescience to queue up a suicide note on her Tumblr page that was posted after her death for all the world to see. Her death is tragic, but by no means unique. Statistics on suicides by transgender youth are hard to come by, but a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force back in 2010 showed that 41 percent of the 7,000 transgender people they surveyed had reported suicide attempts in the past. And, in what might be an even more telling statistic, a recent study has shown that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth that come from families that strongly reject their personal understanding of their sexuality are 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide than their LGB peers who experience little or no family rejection.

Leelah’s parents, who are devout Evangelical Christians, seem to have firmly entrenched themselves in the camp of the strong rejectors. Instead of listening to their daughter and learning to love her as she was, they plugged their ears and chalked their daughter’s behaviors and feelings up to being “a phase”, refusing to pay for treatment that would medically transition her into womanhood. In fact—according to her suicide note—Leelah’s parents went so far as to send her to “Christian therapists” who tried to reinforce the idea that Leelah was not and never would be a woman. After a while, her parents took Leelah out of school and away from what little support network she had, essentially quarantining her from the outside world and leaving her in an emotionally toxic environment where her depression and self-loathing could balloon to suicidal proportions.

In what amounts to a cruel, if potentially healing, irony, Leelah’s suicide has garnered her the outpouring of support and acceptance that she always sought, only at a level infinitely grander than she could have imagined. Whereas in life she was unable to find a way to fit in and feel loved in her exurban Ohio home, in death she has built around herself a community that is international in its scope and potentially transformative in terms of its impact on young transgender men and woman all across the globe. In her suicide note, Leelah wrote, “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights.”

And, while Leelah’s wish for transgender equality may eventually come to fruition, it seems as if it would have to come against the wishes of her tragically tone deaf parents. One quick look at a post her mother made on her Facebook page says it all. “My sweet 16 year old son, Joshua Ryan Alcorn went home to heaven this morning.” she wrote. “He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck. Thank you for the messages and kindness and concern you have sent our way.” It’s a lovely statement if you ignore the fact that she got her child’s age (17, not 16) and gender (female, not male) wrong and if you’re untethered far enough from reality to believe that teenagers take walks on the Interstate at 2:30 in the morning. It’s also the sort of sentiment that reminds me of a little poem Phillip Larkin once wrote that I think Leelah could’ve identified with:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra just for you.


(1) Just as a sort of baseline metric, it might help to know that 69% of Warren County, OH voters cast their votes for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.