Her name was Leelah

Sophia Ho

On Dec. 28, just a few days before 2015, transgender teen Leelah Alcorn committed suicide by walking in front of oncoming traffic.

Born Joshua Alcorn in 1997, Leelah was barely seventeen years old. In her suicide note, posted on her Tumblr blog, Leelah wrote: “my death needs to mean something,” obviously feeling that her life did not.

Leelah’s suicide note makes the reasons for her death clear; although assigned male at birth, she was born a girl, and her parents refused to accept and love her for that fact. She writes about the confusion of misgendering, the pain of pretending to be a boy and her torture at the hands of her parents, who, after finding out she was trans, cut her off from her friends by not allowing her to access her phone or social media, sent her to conversion therapy and even today, continue to misgender her.

It doesn’t matter what Leelah’s birth record says — if she felt she was a girl, then she was a girl. Labeling her as anything else is intensely transphobic. In Carla Alcorn’s first post on Facebook after her daughter’s death, Leelah’s mother continues to refer to her as male, as a son, and not the daughter she was.

During an interview with CNN (in which she continued to use male pronouns and Leelah’s birth name), Carla Alcorn insisted that while she loved her “son,” her religious views kept her from being able to accept Leelah as the girl she was.

What’s worse: accepting and loving your child for who they are, or burying them because you couldn’t? One of the most basic human needs is love, and that is something Leelah’s parents (and even her friends, who abandoned her when her parents begin to cut her off from the outside world) didn’t give her.

If you aren’t prepared to love your child unconditionally, no matter what sexuality or gender they identify as, then you aren’t fit to be a parent. Parenting is a lot more than raising your child into whatever you want them to be — it also includes loving your child, even if they don’t fit your ideal son or daughter cookie cutter mold.

The worst part about Leelah’s story isn’t even her parents, it’s the fact that there are thousands of children just like her, experiencing the same emotional abuse, with no escape or way to express their true identity. Conversion therapy, one of the most psychologically damaging practices a human can undergo, is still legal in 48 states, meaning that in 48 states, anyone with legal guardianship can pay money to abuse their child and face no repercussions.

I’m aware it is not as easy for older generations to accept the radical changes in society. I’m aware that they lived in a different time period growing up, in which the things that us millennials now view as basic human rights, applied to people barely considered human in the first place.

I’m also aware that that argument is complete stupidity.

If the baby boomers can learn to use computers, something they never had growing up, then they can learn to accept LGBTQA+ people. If my grandfather can learn how to make a Facebook when he had never even seen a TV until he was 30 years old, then he can learn not to be a hateful bigot, but I digress. Only cowards are the type of people to be hateful and close minded, to afraid of new ideas to accept that things are very different than they used to be.

Leelah Alcorn’s parents might as well have thrown her in front of the truck that ended her life. The compassion, love and acceptance they never gave her are only hard traits to learn if you actively try not to. Mankind has been to the moon, discovered galaxies hundreds of light years away and invented the world wide web. We can learn to love a girl who was born a boy.

If we can take anything away from this tragedy, it is this: parents, refuse to be your child’s first bully. It is too late for Leelah, but there are thousands of kids just like her who need your help. It shouldn’t take a 17-year-old girl walking onto the freeway to be able to open your heart and help someone feel a little less alone.

Leelah, I’m sorry we couldn’t save you. I’m sorry no one told you how much you were worth until it was too late. I’m sorry you only got seventeen years. I hope we can someday make this world a place where people like you can live to see eighteen, thirty and maybe even a hundred.