On December 28th, Leelah Alcorn (born Joshua Alcorn) was struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 71, near her home in Kings Mills, Ohio, according to WCPO 9. Alcorn, a 17 year-old transgender girl, reportedly posted a suicide note online lamenting that her parents did not accept her as transgender. According to the note, Leelah's parents took her to Christian therapists who told her that she was "selfish and wrong", reports the Guardian.
Leelah's sorrow was not unique. Research indicates that transgender persons experience high rates of suicidal ideation and attempted suicide, no doubt due to the relentless transphobia they experience. After her mother reportedly disregarded her gender identity and prevented her from transitioning, is it any wonder that Leelah grew despondent?
Friends and transgender rights advocates attended vigils in Alcorn's memory, both in Ohio and around the world. On January 10th, supporters of transgender youth attended a rally outside the Carnegie Library in Washington D.C. in memory of Leelah, followed by a march through downtown Washington, reports the Washington Blade.
Leelah's reported negative experiences with Christian therapists have fueled criticism of conversion therapy for minors. According to Gay Star News, the Transgender Human Rights Institute posted an online petition urging lawmakers to enact the "Leelah Alcorn Law", which would ban conversion therapy for transgender persons.
Despite the outpouring of compassion for Leelah and transgender youth like her, many voices from the Religious Right have responded to her death with condescension and scorn. Several Religious Right commentators refused to acknowledge Leelah's feminine identity, repeatedly referring to the youth with masculine pronouns. Moreover, several blasted transgender status as a sign of derangement or spiritual pathology.
First, in a December 31st column at Charisma Magazine, Michael Brown admitted that "we must recognize that issues of transgender identity often run very deep and cannot be trivialized or taken lightly." However, he also claimed to know people who abandoned their transgender identity because they "found a better way". (Hat tip to Friendly Atheist.)
"I personally know individuals who once identified as transgender and who no longer do, and they are so thankful to God that they found a better way. They emphatically discourage parents from affirming their children as transgender (while even more emphatically urging those parents to show unconditional love to their kids). Should we ignore what they have to say? ... Some of these individuals remained suicidal even after having sex-change surgery, and in some notable cases, which I mentioned in my article "Sex Change Regret," some have committed suicide after coming out as the opposite of their biological sex.Brown refuses to take transgender identity seriously, convinced that people can transcend deeply-held feelings about their gender identity. To boot, he ignores the toxic effects of transphobic discrimination and violence, which can plunge transgender people into despair regardless of where they are in their transition. Instead of telling transgender people to find "a better way", we need to confront transphobia.
Don't their deaths count as much as the death of Joshua-Leelah?"
In a January 7th commentary piece at Renew America, Gina Miller called Leelah Alcorn "mentally ill", blasting Leelah for "selfishly forcing the driver to run him down". Miller accused transgender people of having "a deeply disturbing mental and spiritual sickness", claiming that "demon possession" can play a role in LGBTQ identity. Callously, Miller accused the "sexual anarchy movement" of using Leelah Alcorn's death to further their agenda. (Hat tip to Raw Story.)
"Naturally, the radical homosexual activist community is seizing on this horrific suicide as an excuse to falsely blame the young man's death on the Christian beliefs of his parents. This is to be expected today in our truly insane society, in which all manner of deception and lies are embraced by a fringe minority and spread far and wide by a complicit, dark-minded media. Members of the sexual anarchy movement have in their cross-hairs anyone who publicly opposes their tyrannical agenda, and they will not hesitate to cravenly use an awful event like this kid's suicide to further that agenda.
Just about the only people left with the courage to tell the truth about immoral, unhealthy and unnatural homosexuality and "transgenderism" are Christians. Others are too scared to speak out against it, foolishly don't care one way or another, or they support this degeneracy. Far too many people don't understand the danger to our society and our freedoms posed by this evil movement. It is Christianity that these people seek to thwart and Christians they seek to silence, because the lovers of perversion despise the truth we tell about them and their agenda."
In a January 6th post at the Illinois Family Institute website, Laurie Higgins was dismissive of the transgender community in the wake of Leelah Alcorn's death. She sneered at the idea of transitioning, calling it "butchery", "another deceitful Leftist term", and an indication of "serious delusion or disordered desire". Higgins claimed that rates of depression and suicidal ideation are so high among transgender persons in part because they recoil from God's truth. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"Perhaps the depression and suicidal ideation that gender-confused teens, post-op “transsexuals,” and homosexuals experience results in part from societal disapproval, but perhaps their anguish results at least in part from apprehension of the truth that God has written on their hearts regarding homoerotic activity, cross-dressing, and bodily mutilation ... Homosexual and “trans” activists are not interested in finding ways to mitigate suffering unless such ways include promoting their assumptions about homoerotic activity and gender confusion. They will tolerate no discussion of theories regarding causation that may undermine their social and political goals of compulsory affirmation of their non-factual beliefs. The promotion of their self-serving sexuality ideology supersedes everything, including the welfare of others."
Finally, R.C. Sproul Jr. discussed Leelah Alcorn's death in a January 7th podcast. In a transcript of the podcast, Sproul defended the Alcorns for rejecting Leelah's transgender identity, disparaging "the boiling cauldron of sexual identity politics". (Hat tip to Joan's Pants.)
"...Consider the tragic case of Joshua Alcorn. This young man recently took his own life, and left behind on social media his explanation for why. Joshua wanted to go through that process by which some men disfigure themselves and take in chemicals all designed to make him appear like a woman. His parents, professing believers, supported neither this process, nor the notion that Joshua was a girl trapped in a boy’s body.
Now to be sure the death is a terrible, terrible tragedy. This young man was struggling with deep despair. But the “lesson” we are called to learn by the world, that too many professing believers are owning, is that Joshua is dead because of his “cruel, narrow, believing parents.” And we Christians are supposed to repent for our lack of understanding of those struggling with sexual identity. The trouble is, apart from Fred Phelps perhaps, I’m unaware of Christians lacking in understanding for anyone struggling with sexual identity, or any other sin for that matter. I am aware that there are Christians, sadly too few, who are unwilling to call evil good in the boiling cauldron of sexual identity politics. The tragedy of the death of Joshua Alcorn is tragic because of Joshua’s death, not because we Christians won’t get with the program of our postmodern sexual free fall."
What part of ubiquitous transphobia do these commentators fail to grasp? What aspect of Leelah's suffering was unclear in her final message? These commentary pieces are heartbreaking in their refusal to acknowledge the realities of transgender life.
It saddens me that so many Religious Right figures cherish their facile gender paradigms more than the well-being of LGBTQ youth. The attitudes displayed in these commentary pieces are the problem. Too many people ignore the lived experiences of transgender persons, lecture transgender people on how to live their lives, and sneer at the LGBTQ community. If we are to prevent transgender suicides, we must confront these attitudes. We must accept transgender persons and listen to them.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
The Guardian: Homophobic, transphobic parents make abusive homes. Let's help LGBT kids get out
Time: Leelah Alcorn’s Suicide: Conversion Therapy Is Child Abuse
Think Progress: Leelah Alcorn And The Quiet Genocide Of Transgender People
Love, Joy, Feminism: Leelah Alcorn and Evangelical Storytelling