The Last Lost Generation

Three days after Christmas Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager from Ohio, was struck by a tractor trailer on Interstate 71 and died in an apparent act of suicide, as explained in a note she posted on Tumblr. Leelah described a life that she could only see getting worse, not better. Her parents sent her to conservative religious counseling, isolated her from her friends, and refused to allow her to live her life as her authentic self, a girl.

With Leelah's tragic death our community did not just lose yet another youth to the epidemic of violence -- both physical and psychological -- that has afflicted the LGBT community (especially the "T"). We also lost the potential of a girl who seemed capable of great creativity and passion, whose capacity to express herself has moved people to acts of love, compassion, anger and frustration after her death (such as the many powerful tweets to #RealLiveTransAdult).

She could have been our next Harvey Milk. Instead she is part of another generation of LGBT youth -- and especially trans youth -- that we are losing to prejudice and violence.

The LGBT and HIV-positive community knows too well what it is like to lose a generation. We lost a generation of gay men to AIDS in the '80s and '90s; many of them were our fiercest advocates. Before that we lost countless known and unknown foreparents of the LGBT community to torture, mass killing, medical experimentation, "reparative therapy," chemical castration, murder, and suicide. (Anyone who has seen The Imitation Game has to wonder how else Alan Turing might have transformed the world, in addition to already having helped end World War II and invented the computer, had he lived a full life free of persecution.) And we continue to lose so many trans individuals, especially trans women of color, whose names we read every year at Transgender Day of Remembrance vigils.

But what I find hardest to deal with are the deaths of young people who never had the chance to show the world, or even themselves, what they could achieve and contribute -- including the ability to love and be loved.

It doesn't have to be this way. Just last November Nicole Maines, a 17-year-old trans girl from Maine, was named one of Glamour's 50 inspiring women of the year. Like Leelah, Nicole knew from a young age that she was a girl, not a boy, and, as a result, was treated differently and wrongly by her school and peers. What set Nicole on a different path was the support of her loving family, who knew to contact Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) for help. GLAD sued her school district and obtained the first-ever state supreme court decision affirming a transgender girl's right to be treated as a girl in every aspect of school life.

Because of that, Nicole is now thriving, and I look forward to the many more trails she will continue to blaze throughout her life -- perhaps becoming the first trans president of the United States?

In the wake of our amazing progress on marriage equality, it is incumbent on us to recommit our time, energy, and resources to making sure that there are no more lost generations in our LGBT and HIV-positive family tree. We must make sure that our movement continues to do the hard work of creating a world that doesn't just tolerate but celebrates LGBT people and youth.

Imagine if schools not only kept all youth safe but taught LGBT-inclusive literature, history and sex education. We as a movement can make that dream a reality. Together, if we have the tenacity to strive for an even more just and inclusive world, we can make this generation of young people the first to know what it feels like to, in Leelah's words, always be "treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights."