Leelah Alcorn was a transgender teenager who lived in Ohio, until she committed suicide on December 28th 2014. She realised she was female at the age of four. At the age of seventeen, after thirteen years of frustration, she queued a suicide note on tumblr and walked out in front of oncoming traffic.
After understanding the meaning of the word ‘transgender’ at the age of 14, Leelah Alcorn cried. She finally felt as though a label fitted her correctly and she was overcome with the joy that it brought. Leelah had never before felt understood, felt comfortable or at ease in her situation. She had been buffeted along by the waves of the unassuming, trying to keep her head above the waters of societal expectations for her gender. And this is in no way an isolated incident; a survey done by ‘The Guardian’ states that 46% of trans people under the age of 26 had attempted suicide, in comparison to the 6% of all 16-24 year olds (Adult Psychiatry Morbidity Survey). As much as we may like to believe that our society is a progressive one, Leelah was assigned the male gender at birth and so was never truly accepted by her family. And true enough, her mother notably still refers to her daughter by her birth gender, writing “My sweet 16-year-old son, Joshua Ryan Alcorn” in a Facebook tribute after Leelah’s death, as well as using the ironic words ‘we loved him unconditionally’, evidently underestimating and misusing the word ‘unconditionally’, even after Leelah’s death.
But whilst we may criticize her parents for never accepting her gender identity, for holding their belief systems above that of the rights and mental health of their daughter, or even blame society as a whole, what would be sensible would be to use Leelah’s death as an opportunity. An appreciation of the difficulty of her family to accept and adjust to Leelah’s identity should be present, as it allows us to understand that no matter how education may grow, transition may always prove difficult for some. However, dotted amongst Leelah’s suicide note were pleas for improvement; she was begging society to ‘fix itself’, she needed her ‘death to mean something’ and this is precisely how we should view such a tragedy.
Exploring and learning more about the LGBT community, teaching young children and adults alike, allowing our population to grow in not only tolerance and acceptance but also in their knowledge of others would be hugely conducive to the development of modern-day society. It would give the LGBT community a chance to enhance themselves as a group and for individuals to be given a chance to breathe and understand their positive influence on society. Here is an entrance to a discussion. If we can use such a tragedy to talk about this huge flaw in our society then we truly can save lives. Leelah Alcorn could be here today, pulling all nighters, studying and learning. She could be applying for university, or entering the world of work, meeting new people, growing. Instead she is providing us with a base. Perhaps Leelah Alcorn’s death will enable us to fix ourselves, find a better way to approach such issues and prevent such destructive mindsets which lead to the rigid and insurmountable conventions which cause so much harm to so many.
Leelah Alcorn’s death was a tragedy on which 2014 closed. But we must face the ramifications of a society where in particular groups are not valued equally and we must act accordingly. Force it to stay with you. Let it make you think. Maybe, one at a time we can open minds to acceptance. Maybe then we truly can make Leelah’s death ‘mean something’.
Words by Iona Taylor