Update: Months after trans teen Leelah Alcorn walked into traffic in Ohio, her death has been officially ruled a suicide by the state's Highway Patrol, according to the AP. In a Tumblr suicide note before her death, the 17-year-old wrote "my death needs to mean something... fix society." She's since become a symbol for the need for greater trans rights.
This story was originally published on December 30, 2014
At 2:20 a.m. on Sunday, December 28, 17-year-old trans teen Leelah Alcorn was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer on an Ohio interstate. Her death, it appears, was not an accident. Leelah likely walked the three or four miles between the home she shared with her parents (in Kings Mill, OH) and the interstate, and then walked out onto the road. Hours after her death, Leelah's suicide note auto-published to Tumblr.
"When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness," the note reads. "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. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids...
"I’m never going to be happy... There’s no winning. There’s no way out... People say 'it gets better' but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.
"The only way I will rest in peace," Leelah continues, "is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. 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."
Leelah signs the letter "(Leelah)
Josh Alcorn," striking out the name her parents assigned her. Local media has reported on Leelah's death without mention of her apparent suicide or her trans identity; Cincinnati.com referred to Leelah as "Joshua" and "the boy." In reality, Leelah now numbers among the unconscionably high number of trans teens who have attempted suicide. In one study of 55 trans youths, 25% reported suicide attempts; compare that with the 8% attempt rate found among the general youth population in another, nationally representative study. (Suicide attempt rates among trans individuals from rejecting families are even higher.)
Rates diverge even more as individuals age. An estimated 46% of trans men and 42% of trans women have attempted suicide at some point, compared with 4.6% of the U.S. population as a whole. On both personal and societal levels, we are failing to address this epidemic. Leelah is its most recent victim, and her note is a reminder of our collective obligation to fight it.
Find help and support at the website of The Trevor Project or call its crisis hotline at 866-488-7386.