In my early teens, I started meeting and befriending LGBT teens. I saw firsthand how painful their parents and families reactions were and how much impact they had in the lives of these people. I knew they were wonderful people, and it hurt me to see them treated inhumanely. I had a friend who was treated exactly as Leelah was — forced isolation and sessions with Christian therapists and pastors — when he came out as gay and seeing him come back a shell of himself was very painful for me. Thankfully, his story ultimately had a happy ending, but it could have easily gone the other way.
Simply put, I was tired of seeing an injustice committed against people who were doing nothing wrong, who were simply living as their hearts told them to live. We must memorialize and grieve for those who have been the victim of abuse and discrimination due to their true identities. We must show other potential Leelahs that they are not alone. I want us to remember those who have fallen victim, while also stating our intent to come out of the dark corners that transgender, non-binary people and their families and allies have been driven into.
Had Leelah been permitted to have a community of support, she may still be alive today. Too many have already been lost. It is time to do something, time to try to be part of the solution. Her suicide note angered me and broke my heart, and I wanted to hear her. She said to “Fix Society.” Well, that starts with ourselves — non-binary, transgender, gay, lesbian, gender-fluid, cisgender, straight, whoever we are. We can change the experience of someone who is young and struggling with something that seems so much bigger than themselves.
Don’t assume that because you’re not LGBT, that this is not your problem. When our youth are harassed and abused to suicide, it’s all of our problem. Leelah’s message was to all of us. I often thought that as a straight, cisgender woman, maybe activism “wasn’t my place” and certainly didn’t want to fall into the trap of “cisplaining,” if you get my meaning. I believe in the ability of the trans community to stand strong for themselves.
But Leelah immediately made me think of the teenagers I’ve read postings from in the internet group, and my heart hurt. I was angry and tired of feeling impotent. I remembered something my late father had said to me a long time ago, “If you’re standing around thinking ‘somebody should, somebody should’ maybe you should.”
I decided I could no longer stand silent while people died. And here I am. It’s been incredibly gratifying to be involved and to hear people’s stories. If I can have a tiny part in making someone’s life more bearable, I’m happy. : :
— Victoria Lemay is an organizer of a Jan. 17 vigil for Leelah Alcorn in Greenville, S.C.