Dear Leelah Alcorn: Your Life and Death Mean Something

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Content Note: This article discusses bullying, transphobia/hate and suicide of a transgender teenager.

Leelah Alcorn’s friends describe her as funny, despite struggling with ongoing depression and a difficult home life. At 17, she had known she was different all of her life but had only recently learned how to give voice to that difference.

Because Leelah was raised in a strict, conservative Christian household, she didn’t even know what “transgender” was until she was well past the “merely confused” stage of struggling with her gender. Her family attempted to hide all information about non-traditional sexualities and genders, instead of helping her find answers about her struggle.

In response, Leelah came out as a gay male at her high school. Her parents, who Leelah wrote wanted her to be a straight, Christian boy, cut her off from her friends and forced her to see Christian therapists who were clearly more interested in what Leelah’s parents wanted than what Leelah needed. Her family (and possibly her mental health professionals, her last line of defense against this tragic end) were telling her that she was wrong, that God doesn’t make mistakes about gender.

After months of feeling alone and believing she would never be allowed to live as the young woman she knew herself to truly be, Leelah walked away from her house in the dead of night and ended her life by stepping onto an Interstate in front of a tractor-trailer this last Sunday.

A heart-breaking excerpt from Leelah’s suicide note posted to her Tumblr  reads:

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 fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.


(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

No one should be made to feel the way that Leelah did this last weekend, when she walked away from her home with the intention of ending her young life. No one shoud be made to feel unloved and unaccepted, especially by those who are charged with guiding that particular young life to adulthood. No one should be forced to live as a gender that they do not identify with for the sake of other people.

The trans community has been responding with outrage, as Leelah’s parents’ final response served only to prove her accusations in her suicide post: her parents did not respect her or her view of herself. In an online post (since removed, possibly because it was reported repeatedly as an act of hate speech) that can only be called a final act of erasure for a young woman who felt invisible, alone and imprisoned, her parents used Leelah’s given name and inaccurate pronouns when describing her suicide as an accident.

My sweet 16-year-old son, Joshua Ryan Alcorn, went home to Heaven this morning. He was 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. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.

Perhaps Leelah’s second note, which included personalized messages to her friends and family best describes what everyone else in the trans community is feeling about how they treated their child: “Mom and Dad: F–k you. You can’t just control other people like that. That’s messed up.”

Although Leelah’s family requested privacy when speaking with the media, online activists have doxxed Leelah’s mother and father. With their home addresses, phone numbers and employment information publicly available, ignoring their role in Leelah’s death will prove difficult, if not impossible. People who have set up fake accounts to look like  Leelah’s parents have begun lashing out via various social media outlets, but no real response has been forthcoming from Leelah’s actual parents.

Leelah, your life and death matter. What you endured has galvanized countless trans people and their allies to speak up and shine a bright light on this tragedy and others like it (such Jay Ralko’s suicide earlier in the month). You have reminded this nation that the rights of religious parents should not trump the rights of their nearly-adult children. You have reminded us of how seriously our culture fails transgender people, whose most common causes of death are  murder and suicide. You have reminded us that bullying comes in many forms, including forced invisibility. And your parents will be hard-pressed to sweep what they did to you, how they ignored your reality and needs, under a rug. They have become an example to parents everywhere of how imposing one’s own feelings on a child can have tragic results.

Those who want to support an effort to legally end transgender conversion therapy can sign the petition on and follow the Leelah’s Law page on Facebook. For those in the Columbus, Ohio area, there will be a candlelight vigil this Friday in memory of her life and death. There is also a petition asking her parents to display Leelah’s real name on her tombstone. For those people struggling with gender and suicidal thoughts, there are hotlines staffed by those trained to deal with the life experiences of transgender people (other trans people). Please make use of these resources!


Photo Credit: Leelah Alcorn’s public Tumblr and