LGBT suicide, specifically among teens, is sadly a far too common occurrence. Leelah Alcorn, a transgender 17 year-old from Ohio, tragically took her own life after posting a suicide note to Tumblr. The page has since been taken down, but according to this Change.org petition she wrote the following:
“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.”
The petition calls for a ban on “transgender conversion therapy,” a practice through which Leelah’s parents were putting her. As the petition states, all major American psychological associations agree on the emotional harm that can be caused to transgender adolescents by attempting to change their gender identities, which is the entire point of conversion therapy.
Leelah wanted her death to mean something, and it certainly does: in its first 48 hours, even over a holiday, the petition has garnered over 200,000 signatures.
But Leelah shouldn’t have had to die for her life to mean something. Many people question the value of social media petitions such as this, whether or not they can actually generate official change. Not all of them do, but they at least bring about more awareness to their issues. Per the petition:
“No person should have to suffer as Leelah did. No person should be subjected to brainwashing to try to change their gender identity or sexual orientation. That’s why we are all here. To end the brainwashing and torturing of our youth!”
CNN’s report on Leelah’s death quotes her mother—who only refers to her as Joshua, her legal name, and only uses masculine pronouns. She may have loved her child, but she did not accept or understand her. Leelah’s parents no doubt thought they were doing the right thing by putting her in conversion therapy—and that is the problem. In order to “fix society,” as Leelah wanted, we have to not only ban these conversion therapies, but eliminate the idea that changing an individual’s gender identity is even possible.
Quite frankly, the goals of this petition may become tangible sooner than we ever could have imagined. No one saw it coming when Alan Chambers shut down Exodus International, one of the world’s largest gay conversion therapies, in 2013, showing that it is a possibility to shut down the organizations trying to “fix” transgender people. We owe that (and much more ) to Leelah, and to the countless other transgender individuals who have taken their own lives.
Image courtesy of Change.org.