In December of 2014, a transgender teenager named Leelah Alcorn committed suicide because her fundamentalist Christian parents did not accept her for who she was. In the early morning hours of a cold winter’s morning, Leelah threw herself in front of a tractor-trailer truck and died.
Her death was completely preventable, though, and that part is perhaps the most tragic of all. Luckily, Leelah left behind a moving and powerful Tumblr post, asking that her death, to use her words, “mean something.” Well, the LGBTQ community and our allies took her words to heart. Leelah’s parents sent her to Christian quack “therapists” to try to “fix her.” This action directly contributed to her death.
Activists and advocates took notice, and the Leelah’s Law website was created, and a push began to end the harmful practice of trying to force gender and sexual minorities to change who we are. This practice is known as “conversion therapy” (or in some gay circles, “ex-gay therapy”), and it has been rejected as dangerous junk science that has contributed to many instances of mental illness and suicide in LGBTQ people by every major credible world health organization.
In the end, a petition was started on the White House’s We The People site, and the cause received- and passed- the required 100,000 signatures in order to get an actual response from the White House and President Obama. Finally, we got our response. First, President Obama’s statement:
Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let’s say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he’s held as long as he can remember. Soon, perhaps, he will decide it’s time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us — on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.”— President Barack Obama
And, the official response from the White House and the Obama Administration:
Thank you for taking the time to sign on to this petition in support of banning the practice known as conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy generally refers to any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Often, this practice is used on minors, who lack the legal authority to make their own medical and mental health decisions. We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth.
When assessing the validity of conversion therapy, or other practices that seek to change an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation, it is as imperative to seek guidance from certified medical experts. The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.
As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.
You can read the reasoning and research behind this position, as well as the steps being taken to correct the situation here.
This is a very big step, and a bold statement for the Obama Administration to make, especially during a time when fundamentalist Christians are accusing the LGBTQ community and our supporters of attempting to take away their freedom to disagree with LGBTQ identities and equal rights for those of us who identify this way. That isn’t what this issue is about, though. This is about respecting people as human beings, and protecting our youth from harmful practices that lead to a lifetime of psychological problems, and, in some cases, like Leelah Alcorn’s, suicide.
This is the sort of thing that must be done on a legal level in order to save lives. Leelah’s situation is just one piece of proof of that, because, even after her death, and the Tumblr post outlining why she had to do what she did, her mother still went on national television and disrespected her identity by misgendering her, and lied about the role her and her husband’s actions played in their child’s death. That shows that parents who think this way will continue to harm their LGBTQ children with this dangerous therapy, as well as outright rejection, until the law forbids them to do so.
Having been to conversion therapy myself, I can tell you, it is nothing more than brainwashing designed to hate a core part of who you are, which often results in depression, PTSD, and, yes, suicide. The “therapy” can include but is not limited to these brainwashing techniques, as well as electroshock, solitary confinement, humiliation tactics, and much more. No human being should be put through this, especially not defenseless children, so, I plead with you, if you have an LGBTQ child, don’t do this. Accept your child for who he or she is, as unconditional love would dictate.
I leave you all with Leelah’s last words, as a reminder of why enacting Leelah’s Law is some important, for she says it better than I ever could:
If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.
Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.
When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. 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.
My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.
When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.
I formed a sort of a “f*ck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. 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.
So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.
At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.
After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.
That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. 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. 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 f*cked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.
If this precious girl’s last words don’t convince people that we truly need to #FixSociety, then I don’t know what will.
Featured Image: Leelah Alcorn’s now deleted Tumblr