Fixing Society in the Wake of Leelah Alcorn's Death Will Take Empathy and Understanding From Loved Ones

By Raven Robles

Nobody is perfect, not even parents. This much is certainly true of the parents of Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teen from Ohio who recently committed suicide when she couldn't get the acceptance she craved from her parents.

"People say 'it gets better,' but that isn't true in my case," according to Leelah, 17, whose parents did not accept her female identification because she was born male. "It gets worse. Each day I get worse."

Leelah, a male to female transgender Ohio teen, committed suicide on Sunday by walking in front of a truck on a highway.

When a parent has a child who is very different from them in terms of their values and outlook, who decides how the child should live -- the parents or the kid? For Leelah, the question of how to live was answered for her by her parents, despite the fact some things are more than "just a phase." When a child loses support from their parents, it could end with heartbreaking consequences.

In a suicide note posted on Tumblr where she urged, "Fix society. Please," Leelah said ever since she was little she knew who she wanted to be. When she learned about what "transgender" meant, Leelah went to her parents looking for acceptance and received the opposite.

For years, Leelah was told she was wrong by her parents and Christian therapists who insisted she look to God for help. At the end of her suicide note, she expresses her wish for gender identity issues to be taught about in school as early as possible and for society to improve the way transgender people are treated.

Failing to adequately help her daughter while living, Leelah's mother, Carla Wood Alcorn posted a Facebook status where she not only regarded Leelah's death as an accident but also referred to her as "Joshua," the name she was born with. Alcorn continues to disrespect her daughter even in death.

Social media has had a field day with it, too:

Kim Kardashian West posted on Twitter: "Just read about a transgender teen, Leelah Alcorn who took her own life because she wasn't accepted. We need to learn acceptance. #BraveSoul."

Another post by Not Dragon Age Sera wrote: "What got me through hard times? Love yourself. One day you will transition, but you are beautiful no matter what. #RealLiveTransAdult."

In all of her loneliness, Leelah still knew who she wanted to be, and her desires were put down by her family. If family should always be a first priority, why do some feel the most uncomfortable and unloved by their families?

The Williams Institute has found that 41 percent of transgender adults surveyed had attempted suicide. And 78 percent who suffered physical or sexual violence at school reported suicide attempts, as did 65 percent of respondents who experienced violence at work.

Although Leelah was just 17, she had already experienced enough hatred and ignorance to make her want to end her life, like many other transgender teens and adults.

Leelah's suggestion in her note to educate children about gender can reduce the ignorance surrounding gender issues. If kids learn at a young age that realizing you want to be different from the way you were born is OK, they'll be more comfortable when expressing themselves. Even if a child is perfectly fine with who they are, they need to learn to be more accepting of others who may choose to change who they are to be happy.

Not only should schools teach about gender, but gender needs to be addressed at home. Leelah had no support in her household, but that is where she needed it from the most.

When kids come home from school feeling unwanted, they should be able to come home feeling accepted for who they are. This tragedy should not have happened, but because it has, parents should be more aware of their kids' feelings.

Maybe Leelah's life and death will have a purpose, as suggested by Sana Ono on Twitter:

"Have no doubt, your life meant something. Collectively, we will all try to make society better. Just as you wished."

Raven Robles is a junior at Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago and a 2014-15 participant of The OpEd Project's Youth Narrating Our World program.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.