by Calamity Jung-Allen Staff Writer
Leelah Alcorn was an American transgender girl who committed suicide on December 18, 2014 at the age of 17. The note she left behind on her Tumblr blog blaming her parents for their enforcement of damaging societal standards has received national attention and sparked a movement in support of transgender youth.
Alcorn was born Joshua Ryan on November 15, 1997 in a conservative Christian household in Ohio. Her family attended the Northeast Church of Christ in Cincinnati, and had been featured in a profile published in a 2011 issue of The Christian Chronicle. When she was 14, she came out to an unsupportive family, and at 16, they denied her request to undergo transition treatment. She writes in her letter left behind that, “I immediately told my mom, and she 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. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.” Soon after, she was forced into conversion therapy, removed from school, revoked access to social media, and isolated from her friends. They also enrolled her in an online school, Ohio Virtual Academy, in place of Kings High School. After five months, Alcorn states that they returned her phone and let her contact her friends, but her relationships had become strained and she still felt extremely isolated.
Alcorn writes, “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 Christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.” Two months prior to her suicide, Alcorn reached out on Reddit, asking whether her parents’ treatments toward her would be considered abuse. She explained that her parents often verbally abused her to a violent degree, but never physically assaulted her.
Alcorn posted her suicide note on Tumblr as a queued post to appear at 5:30 PM. At 2:20 AM on December 28, 2014, Alcorn stepped in front of a truck on Interstate 71. Her suicide note expressed hope that her death would spur dialogue about transgender discrimination and abuse. It also called for major societal reform: “Fix society, please.” She asked for all of her belongings and money to be donated to trans advocacy groups.
Later that day at 2:55 PM, her mother, Carla Alcorn, posted a Facebook post that read, “My sweet 16-year-old, Joshua Ryan Alcorn, went home to Heaven this morning. He went 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.” Leelah Alcorn was 17 at the time of her death.
Recently, her suicide has received international attention in news and social media. Within 48 hours of posting, it had 82,272 views and had 200,000 notes on Tumblr by December 31st. It was described as passionate and heartbreaking by the Boston Globe and the Daily Mail. Subsequently, Leelah Alcorn’s post was deleted and her Facebook account made private.
A petition is calling for “Leelah’s Law”, a ban on conversion therapy created by the Transgender Human Rights Institute. On January 3rd, it had more than 230,000 signatures. Carla Alcorn appeared on CNN later and stated that she and her family, “don’t support that, religiously.” Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, commented that, “Despite the great cultural and policy advances transgender people have made, there is still a lot of disrespect, discrimination and violence aimed at us. And being a child or a teenager of any kind today is very difficult.”