While stories of self-harm among the LGBTQ+ community are all too common on too frequent a basis, the news of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn's suicide on December 27, 2014, has left us reeling, especially those within and working on behalf of the transgender community.
The Ohioan teen, misgendered and misnamed by local media, was struck by a tractor trailer on I-71 in Warren County two days after Christmas. Her true identity, proclaimed in a note she left behind on her Tumblr account, revealed the pain Leelah had suffered for years as a result of a family who didn't understand and refused to accept her, as well as the abuse she endured from the extremely misguided conversion therapy she was forced into. She had been isolated from her friends and, as a result of the aforementioned, ended her life -- but not without a strong message for all of us:
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.
As a member of the Transgender Human Rights Institute (THRI) and Transgender Violence Tracking Portal (TVTP), I am well aware of the statistics; this past year alone has seen a rise in violence against the trans* community. As severe as the numbers appear, they are truly just a drop in the bucket considering how many unreported cases of trans* discrimination in the form of assaults, suicides, murders and the like remain.
How many more Leelahs do there need to be before true change comes?
In an effort to hasten that change, the THRI has begun a petition via Change.org, calling for a permanent end to transgender conversion therapy in Leelah's name. At this point, only with help from the federal government can we hope to see differences made quickly in the United States on this front.
As our petition notes:
"Conversion therapies" have been documented to cause great harms and, in this case, Leelah's death. Therapists that engage in the attempt to brainwash or reverse any child's gender identity are seriously unethical, and legislation is needed to end such practices immediately. Transgender youth have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. We must not allow therapists to increase those rates with therapy methodologies that have been demonstrated in harming transgender youth.
The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers and the American Counseling Association have all released studies and statements with various statistics demonstrating the damage that comes from such therapy, seen in increased incidences of self-mutilation, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. The AAP alone states:
According to the study, "Characteristics of Children and Adolescents with Gender Identity Disorder Referred to a Pediatric Medical Center," in the March 2012 Pediatrics ... gender-dysphoric children who do not receive medical treatment or counseling for GID can be at high-risk for certain behavioral and emotional problems, including psychiatric diagnoses. Of 97 patients younger than 21 years who met the criteria for GID ... 21.6 percent had a history of self-mutilation and suicide attempts.
Allison Woolbert, founding member of both the THRI and TVTP, said:
The one message we need to get out to the world is transgender conversion therapy kills. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not choices; and those who unethically try to modify transgender and gay/lesbian/bisexual+ youth through therapy, brainwashing or religious bias can cause severe harms. Leelah's Law must be created, enacted and enforced to save our youth.
We hope this petition, currently at over 292,000 signatures strong, will raise the awareness needed to get the powers that be to act in Leelah's memory, saving countless lives in the future.
Fix society. Please.
For more information and resources on how you can help, please visit LeelahsLaw.com.
The THRI is dedicated to advancing acceptance of transgender human rights. We seek to be an educational catalyst and the foremost provider of accurate, verified data through our education, advocacy and research, ensuring human rights and dignity for all transgender people around the world.