Empowering Voices – Reject Transphobia to Stop the Suffering

Suicide rates and ideation within the LGBT community are tremendously high compared to the rates among the general population. Even within the LGBT community, the transgender community experiences a higher rate of suicide attempts — the trans population had a 41 percent suicide attempt rate compared to 10-20 percent for the LGB population, according to a 2014 report from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute (http://bit.ly/1n7HXBJ).
This may not be anything new to some, but the numbers are catching the attention of others. Recent stories in the news have briefly highlighted the struggle, especially regarding transgender youth, but is it really enough?
Perhaps the most well-known case is that of Leelah Alcorn of Ohio, who died in December 2014 at age 17. Leelah was a transgender girl who grew up in a conservative Christian household with her parents and siblings. In the suicide letter that she posted to Tumblr, she wrote that when she was 14, she came out as trans to her parents, who quickly rejected her gender identity, stating that “it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong.”
When she was 16, she wrote, she asked for her parents’ consent to begin transitioning, but they would not agree. She also opened up to classmates about her attraction to boys. Her parents removed her from school and revoked her access to social media. They also sent her to Christian therapists to try to convince her that she was wrong about who she was. All Leelah heard was “Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help,” she wrote. That was when, she said, she realized her “parents would never come around” and she’d have to wait until she was an adult to start any gender reaffirming treatment.
By then she felt defeated and hopeless. In the early morning hours of Dec. 28, she walked out into oncoming traffic on Interstate 71 and was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer. Hours later, her suicide note was posted onto Tumblr.
In the note, she wrote that “The only way I will rest in peace 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. … Fix society. Please.”

Daniel L. of Kansas City, who identifies as a trans man, says, “Part of the problem is lack of acceptance and understanding, but I’m one of the lucky ones who has a good network of loving people. I’m part of a select few.”
With greater awareness of the issue, we are seeing more and more support groups, hotlines and social media resources.
Randall Jenson of Kansas City Anti-Violence Project says, “LGBTQ people need to be able to talk to others who both can empathize and understand what they’re going through, which is why KCAVP exists out of necessity — because many mainstream agencies and programs do not adequately serve or will not serve large portions of our community.”
We as a community can also do better. We need to work as a whole to end prejudices against and within the LGBT community. We must create environments for everyone to feel safe and loved no matter how they identify. Leelah Alcorn’s death was a tragedy, and we must take a stand against transphobia and other hate so that no one else undergoes the kind of suffering that she did.
If you are in need of help, call KCAVP at 816-561-0550, which is answered 24 hours a day, or send an email to [email protected]. Another 24/7 hotline that’s available is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Anika B. is an intern at the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. KCAVP’s vision is to end all types of violence in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.