America Misses Teachable Moment in Leelah Alcorn Death

Justin King
January 7, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) Leelah Alcorn was a transgender teen in Ohio whose apparent suicide sparked an international outcry. Indications are that she threw herself in front of a semi truck because her family didn’t accept her sexual identity. She was 17. The term “transgender” refers to a person born of one gender who identifies as another. Leelah was born as Joshua Alcorn to Christian parents.

Leelah’s parents tried to “fix” the problem and bring back their Joshua. They turned to the one place their family could always turn to in times of crisis: the church. They learned about conversion therapy and were told this was just a phase.

The reaction from LGBT activists to the death was swift, brutal, and direct. They condemned the parents, demanded “Leelah” be on the headstone instead of “Joshua,” and planned protests at the funeral. Some even went as far as threatening to destroy the headstone if “Leelah” was not on it. Prominent activists called for charges to be filed against the parents.

While the outrage generated by the death is certainly warranted, the tactics used by activists missed the target. Do Leelah’s parents share some of the blame? Probably. Should “Leelah” be on the headstone? Definitely. It was the name she signed to her suicide note. That was her name. Are these the most important things the country should be discussing at the moment? Not even close.

In her suicide note, Leelah said:

“My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year…Fix society.”

“Fix society.” Society is a much larger target than a grieving family in Ohio, and society as a whole is not reacting well to most of what has been happening in Leelah’s name. So far activists have latched on to the death in what seems to be an almost concerted effort to build themselves up while using her death as political capital.

“My death needs to mean something.” So far, it means that large sections of the  LGBT movement have decided to condemn her parents, while not really educating people on the real problem: conversion therapy.

The average American doesn’t care. The thought that they can be made to care by protesting a funeral or destroying a headstone is insane. Extremists within the LGBT have lowered the stature of the trans movement to the same level as the Westboro Baptist Church and the NYPD. Most of them did so in an attempt to be more extreme than the other activists within the cause in order to gain notoriety. Protesting at funerals is generally considered by the public to be pretty tasteless. Imagine the reverse. Imagine Christian fundamentalists demanding that an accepting family of a trans person use the deceased’s given name on the headstone. Everything else they sought would be completely ignored. That works both ways.

There have been some noble efforts. One petition circulated calls for a ban on conversion therapy. That would be a legacy Leelah would probably be proud of. The hashtag #RealLiveTransAdult trended on Twitter revealing stories of success from trans people in hopes of providing young transgendered people with hope. It was too late for Leelah, but it very well may have stopped another suicide.

Despite all of the grandstanding there is some real work being done. The Transgender Human Rights Institute has successfully circulated a petition that has received more than a quarter of a million signatures. The petition seeks to ban “conversion therapy.”

Given Leelah’s last words, do you think she would rather you complain about her tombstone and harass her parents or do you think she would rather you “fix society?”

The real evil here is this so-called conversion therapy. It’s a “therapy” in which the patient is shamed into suppressing their feelings. The idea behind this pseudoscience is to quite literally convert a person back to the way God wanted them, which the therapist knows is straight because he presumably goes golfing with God on the weekends or something. The therapy is deemed “successful” once the patient has been shamed and psychologically tortured long enough to break their will to state they are gay. In many cases, the therapy “converts” a transgendered person into someone who denies who they are and is suicidal.

Perhaps the Southern Poverty Law Center explains it best:

“Conversion therapy – sometimes known as reparative or “sexual reorientation” therapy – is a dangerous practice based on the premise that people can change their sexual orientation, literally ‘converting’ from gay to straight. Conversion therapy has been discredited or highly criticized by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations.

People who have undergone conversion therapy have reported increased anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicidal ideation.”

Leelah was forced to attend conversion therapy.

If you want to honor Leelah, don’t simply bash her parents. Fix society. End conversion therapy and reach out to parents that may not understand that the second they reject their child’s orientation, they have made that child eight times more likely to try to kill themselves.

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