Leelah, not Joshua: Transgender teen’s suicide results from lack of parental understanding

It’s the 21st century: gay marriage bans are slowly joining interracial marriage bans in the dustbin of history. We still don’t have hoverboards yet, but there exists a larger recognition of human rights than ever before.

Yet, equality for transgender Individuals still remains in its infant stages. No longer are we astounded to see Ellen DeGeneres on a magazine cover, but as soon as TIME Magazine features Laverne Cox, the media goes wild. Unlearning transphobic culture is still progressive, and that is highly problematic. Respecting someone’s existence should not be such a controversial issue.

However, while transgenders in general find it difficult to express themselves, transgender adolescents, especially, encounter an insurmountable obstacle to prove that identifying themselves with another gender is not just a “phase.” Teenagers are never quite taken as seriously as they should be. Every day is a battle of demonstrating themselves to be young adults, but being treated as children. And for trans teens, almost nothing hurts as much as being told your identity is invalid.

One of the pioneers who served this painful frontier was an Ohio trans girl named Leelah Alcorn. Leelah was your typical girl. She liked boys, dresses, and cosmetics. However, as a transgender, she suffered from having others invalidate her identity for her. Eventually, enough was enough. On December 28, 2014, she committed suicide by walking out in front of oncoming traffic on the Interstate 71 highway. She was 17 years old, just another statistic of the high suicide rates among trans teens.

However, let us not define her by how she died, but how she lived.

Leelah was born Joshua Ryan Alcorn. She was assigned male at birth, but at the age of 4, she came to realize that this was not the gender she identified with. For 10 years, she lived with this confusion until she did a little research on the Internet. According to her suicide note, whatever joy she felt with her discovery was quickly squashed by her parents, Carla and Doug Alcorn.

Two years after Leelah came out to her parents, she requested to undergo transition therapy. Her parents immediately rejected her request. Instead, they forced her to undergo Christian conversion therapy. In her suicide note, Leelah recounted having to endure people telling her she had no say in identifying herself, that she was a great disappointment to God for rejecting her assigned gender.

She tried to ease her friends into accepting her by coming out as gay first. When her parents found out, they isolated her from all social contact. According to reports by CNN News, they took away her phone and computer, claiming that Leelah was looking at inappropriate content on the net, but never specified what it was . They didn’t understand that what was “inappropriate” meant for them might be salvation and relief for her, especially in form of social media support from her friends. Leelah was only allowed to have access to loneliness and the constant disapproval emanated from  her parents.

Leelah wanted her death to mean something. Although she felt no hope for herself, she had immense hope for other trans teens. She was terrified of growing up trans for who could possibly love a girl who had the body of a boy? Yet still she believed that there were trans teens out there who could lead a happier and fuller life than she did. In a suicide note she posted on her Tumblr blog, she expressed her wish for her parents to donate all her clothes to trans teens.

Of course, they didn’t do it. And even worse, according to Blue Nation Review, they buried her in a suit with a tombstone reading “Josh,” her assigned name .

Doug and Carla did love Joshua. Countless time, Carla expressed  her love for her child in her interviews. Her identity as Leelah, though, was never a part of the equation. At the least, neither of her parents reported having heard of the name “Leelah” before the suicide note was publicized.

Unconditional love is exactly what it sounds like: love without any conditions. The Alcorns tried too hard to get their son back and, in the process, neglected the fact they had a beautiful daughter. The things they thought had been in Leelah’s best interest were actually isolating her from her friends and constantly putting her down. None of their actions served their intended purpose. Leelah didn’t need a cleansing of her mind; all she needed was unconditional love, support, and acceptance.

We still live in an era where transgenderism and gender dysphoria are seen almost as if they are hobbies at best and a perversion at worst. No one chooses to be born in the wrong body. No one chooses to have their existence disrespected. What is a choice, however, is respecting someone’s identity, even if it does not align with a certain belief system. An opinion’s validity can only go so far until it disrespects a person’s existence.

Parents of this generation need to understand that they were raised in a very different time and place when they were younger. What they were taught years ago may not be applicable to their children now.