Trigger Warning: Please be advised that this article contains mentions of transphobia, gender dysphoria, assault and suicide.
In December 2014 at just 17 years old, Leelah Alcorn, a transgender girl from Ohio, took her own life by stepping onto a busy road after her parents refused to accept her gender identity.
Leelah was raised in a conservative Christian household and sadly, her decision to undergo transition treatment from male to female was rejected by her parents. As she was a minor, this meant that she would not be able to have the treatment until she turned 18, which she felt would be too late. Alcorn’s parents removed her from school and exposed her to conversion therapy hosted by a group of Christians, which aimed to make her accept the gender that was assigned to her at birth.
In an interview with CNN, Leelah’s mother Carla Alcorn referred to her child as her son and used male pronouns. Both of Leelah’s parents have since referred to Leelah as Joshua, Leelah’s given name at birth. According to BuzzFeed, the funeral for Leelah was held privately in a changed location after the family received “threats” that there would be “disruptions”.
Leelah’s suicide note, which was posted on her Tumblr blog – but has since been deleted at her parents’ request – attracted international media attention. The note detailed her early problems with gender dysphoria and the struggles of growing up in an oppressive household. Alcorn had scheduled her suicide note to be automatically posted on her Tumblr account after her death.
In the note, Leelah said that she had felt “like a girl trapped in a boy’s body” since she was four years old. When she was fourteen, she learned what the word transgender meant and decided to tell her parents. “After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was,” said Alcorn. She wrote that her parents reacted negatively to this and told her that she was going through a phase. She had some advice for parents of transgender teens and children:
“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”.
Leelah asked for all of the possessions that she legally owned to be sold. She then requested that the money from this and from her bank account be donated to transgender civil rights movements and support groups.
Transphobia is all too common
Early last week, news broke that a transgender woman from Liverpool was the victim of a transphobic attack on the first night that she was out dressed as a woman in public. Ryan Kenny, 20, from Birkenhead, admitted to the assault on the 25-year-old woman. He reportedly stole her handbag and punched her repeatedly while asking if she wanted to die.
At around the same time, an Indian minister, Ramesh Tawadkar, stated that he plans to set up treatment centres offering to “cure” LGBT individuals and make them “normal”. This negative treatment of transgender people, as well as others under the LGBT umbrella, is clearly a very real and worldwide problem today, and a very harmful one.
Transgender visibility in the media
Luckily, transgender issues are starting to gain more visibility. One example is popular Amazon Studios TV series Transparent, which tells the story of a Los Angeles family whose patriarch is going through transition to live as a woman. This show won a Golden Globe for Best Television Series, which producer and writer Jill Soloway dedicated to the memory of Leelah.
And if you’re familiar with Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, you’ll recognise Laverne Cox, who portrays inmate Sophia Burset, a transgender woman sent to prison for credit-card fraud. Laverne was the first openly transgender person to appear on the front cover of TIME magazine in June 2014. Once bullied and harassed for appearing feminine while growing up, Cox eventually came out as transgender while living in New York City and took up acting.
In addition to her work as an entertainer, she speaks and writes about transgender rights and other current affairs in a variety of media outlets, such as the Huffington Post. Her role in Orange Is the New Black has helped to generate publicity for transgender issues and provided a platform for discussion of transgender people’s rights and the problems that they face today. Laverne Cox truly is the woman we have been waiting for.
I sincerely hope that 2015 becomes the year in which more and more transgender people are able to come forward and say ‘This is who I am’ and be met with the support that they deserve.
What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.