CHARLOTTE, N.C. — LGBT advocates across the Carolinas have rallied to raise awareness and build support for transgender youth in the face of an Ohio transgender teen’s death three days after Christmas.
Leelah Alcorn, 17, died on Dec. 28, stepping in front of a truck on Interstate 71 in Lebanon, Ohio. The teen’s suicide was explained in a note she left on her Tumblr account, in which she blamed years of bullying, harassment and rejection from her parents.
“When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness,” Leelah wrote. “After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong.”
Alcorn continued: “If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.”
Alcorn also said her parents forced her into Christian therapy, writing, “My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.”
The teen’s suicide note was later deleted from Tumblr, though it is still available in archived form.
Alcorn’s death has spawned a wave of protest and awareness online and across the country, including a call for “Leelah’s Law,” federal legislation that would ban the use of reparative, so-called “ex-gay” conversion therapy on transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth.
Awareness has come to the Carolinas, too, with groups holding events to honor Alcorn’s memory and push for more support for transgender youth.
In Wilmington, Cape Fear Equality, a local affiliate of Equality North Carolina, held a candlelight vigil on Friday. Those gathered read Alcorn’s suicide note and paused for a moment of silence.
“I think that teaching acceptance and tolerance would go a long way in creating this from happening for not only LGBT youth but for any youth.” Cape Fear Equality director Ryan Burris told news station WWAY. “Bullying does not discriminate, it is not something only the LGBT community deals with.”
On Monday, nearly two dozen LGBT community members and supporters held a march in Alcorn’s memory in downtown Gastonia.
“There are kids in Gaston and Cleveland that are dying. Just because they don’t leave a note doesn’t mean it isn’t happening,” organizer Jim Kellogg told The Gaston Gazette. “This needs to stop. We can’t have another youth take their life.”
The march, Kellogg said, is just one way to honor Alcorn and spread a message of support. “There’s hope, and our youth need to know that there’s help,” he said.
Later this month, advocates with several transgender organizations from across Western North Carolina and South Carolina’s Upstate will hold a rally in Greenville, S.C. There, the groups will hold a vigil for Alcorn and speak out on ways to collaborate for better support and an end to conversion therapies.
“Right now is the time for the conversation to be brought to the table on where do we go from here and how do fix this? We need to rally — yes,” says organizer Jennifer Barge. “But also step up with ideas of solutions so that in 2015 we have fewer (if not zero) trans and queer youth feeling the isolation, the prosecution of church and family that can lead to suicide being an option. Plus we must offer education to parents, schools and those lacking understanding in our mainstream society.”
The event, “Fix Ourselves, Fix Society,” is organized Victoria Lemay and supported by Greenville’s Gender Benders and TransHealth Coordinators. It will be held Jan. 17, 5:15 p.m. at Liberty Bridge at Falls Park on the Reedy. The park’s main entrance is located at the corner of Camperdown Way and Main St.
On Monday, The Charlotte Observer published a feature including two transgender young people in Charlotte, along with comments from a local therapist, parent and Time Out Youth Center. Read the feature here.
Stay tuned for the Jan. 16-29 print edition of qnotes for two special guest commentaries from TransHealth Coordinators’ Jennifer Barge and Greenville rally organizer Victoria Lemay.