Leelah Alcorn: The Real Injustice Is Not Discrimination

On the morning of December 28th, transgender 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn (born Joshua Alcorn, but associated as a female) took her own life by stepping in front of a tractor trailer on the highway in Warren County, Ohio. She left behind a suicide note on tumblr, citing her parents’ Christianity as what pushed her to the edge. As tragic as this situation is, the internet has rallied around Leelah’s story as a cry to end social discrimination against transgender people, as the suicide note urged society to look at the number of transgender people that commit suicide each year and “fix it.” Even though it is wrong to discriminate against any one for any reason, I don’t think we’re looking at the right aspect of society that needs to be fixed. The real injustice here is the lack of understanding from all parties involved on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, depression, and suicide.

In her suicide note, Leelah Alcorn stated that she felt like she was a female at 4 years old and struggled with identity. When she told her mother how she was feeling, she was only met with negativity and nonacceptance. The insurmountable sorrow that goes along with feeling completely outcast from even your own family must be absolutely crushing.

“On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.”

Leelah was experiencing symptoms to a disease that was mistreated by both her and her parents. A lot of people don’t even consider depression to be a disease, thinking that people are just sad and need to cheer up, but Major Depressive Disorder is caused by biological, physiological, and social factors. Leelah did mention in her note that her mother did seek treatment for her.

“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.”

alcornOf course, I understand that God can help and He can heal and restore, and I also understand that depression can alter your perception of reality and make you only intake the negativity which further feeds the depression, but if you see someone stricken with cancer, you wouldn’t dare tell them that they just need Jesus. Depression is like a psychological cancer. Depression needs to be treated as a disease because it is a disease.

Over 80% of the people that have symptoms of clinical depression are not receiving any specific treatment for their depression. Could you imagine what the world would be like if literally any other disease was neglected as much as depression?

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people 15-24 years old. In Matthew chapter eight, Jesus called His disciples to heal the sick, and I believe that recognizing an affliction that may put someone’s life at risk and finding real, professional help for them is part of that. Jesus healed people where they were; He didn’t need them to believe in Him first.

Leelah Alcorn didn’t have to take her own life. It’s truly a heartbreaking tragedy. But, the real tragedy has nothing to do with gender identity, and everything to do with getting educated on depression and suicide. It’s our job as Christians to help those that need help; not judge or condemn them.

As someone that struggles with depression, this story hit very close to home for me. No one should ever feel like there is no hope for them. Jesus is the embodiment of hope, and as His followers we should reflect that same love and acceptance. If you struggle with suicidal thoughts or actions, please call 1-800-273-8255 to talk to someone immediately. To learn more about suicide prevention and depression, visit www.save.org

Know that you’re not alone and there is hope for tomorrow. Be that hope for someone.

Jon Hill

I'm a 28 year old husband, father of 3, Christian DJ, PlayStation fanboy, and retro video game collector from Chesapeake, VA.

12 Comments

  1. Maddie on February 23, 2015 at 4:39 am

    I think that Christians should be more accepting of LGBT people. I do understand that homosexuality is a sin but condemning LGBT people leaves Christianity in a bad light to non-christians and the LGBT community. Also, Jesus ate with sinners and the tax collectors, where as regular people wouldn’t be caught dead doing.

    Leelah pleaded that society should change. I get where she’s coming from, but many people will have different ways of how to fix society, and many will contradict other’s ideas, which will lead to more and more hate in the world.Then again, it may not lead to that. But if we do attempt to fix society, I’m convinced it cause massive controversy, when all Leelah wanted was for the world to be more accepting of people like her.

    I’m really pondering what the future will be like.

    • Calvin Konop on February 23, 2015 at 5:02 am

      Hey Maddie,

      I’m loving your thoughts on the issue and really appreciate your empathy. Also, referring to Leelah as a she is one of the most respectful things we can do since her untimely death. I would challenge you in your belief that homosexuality is a sin. I’m assuming that it’s based on the typical “biblical view” (drawing from Romans or 1 Cor. 6:9, etc). If that is the case, there is a lot of contention going on with those passages, and a lot of really brilliant people are trying to figure them out. Some come to the conclusion that homosexuality is a sin, and many others come to different conclusions.

      Overall, I think I’m going to take your lead and start to change my lifestyle to accurately portray the love I want to have for “the least of these.” Maybe intentionally living alongside LGBT people by joining a GSA or something. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts and for inspiring me to think how I can change. 🙂 I’d be happy to point you to any alternative interpretations on the topic of homosexuality and scripture if you want!

  2. Chris on January 1, 2015 at 4:34 am

    I think your attempt to shift the blame from the way Christians view and treat gay and transgendered people and onto Leelah as an individual who had a “disease” and who had her “perception of reality” altered is disgusting. What you’re saying SEEMS like it’s wrapped in such an understanding package until you look closely at it.

    Shame on you.

    • silasgreen on January 1, 2015 at 8:22 am

      Okay, I have a slightly different take on this article. I don’t think the writer was trying to shift the blame, so much as avoid talking about that side of the issue in order to focus on the aspect of the story that he found more relatable. (Something that everyone who comments on news articles does. Those that look at this story and think it’s ONLY a story about trans discrimination by Christians and NOT a story about depression are also missing part of the story. Depression needs to be talked about too.) This is an understanding article, just one that focuses on understanding the depressed, not the transgender.

      And that’s a problem, because this girl left a letter TELLING everyone why she was killing herself. Her plea for us to “Fix society” shouldn’t be ignored. The isolation caused by cutting her off from her friends, the messages at church that were “against everything” she loved, the fact that she didn’t have autonomy over her own body at a crucial stage in her development… none of these should be ignored. If these things aren’t responsible for creating her depression, they obviously didn’t help. And I personally think they did serious harm.

      http://articles.latimes.com/2014/jan/28/local/la-me-ln-suicide-attempts-alarming-transgender-20140127

      “A whopping 41% of people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming have attempted suicide sometime in their lives, nearly nine times the national average, according to a sweeping survey released three years ago.”

      Nine times the average. That’s not all mental illness. That’s daily non-acceptance, discrimination, and oppression. Society DOES need fixed. So does the church (if not its theology, then the way it treats people). I’d like for the church at large to change its views on the subject, but since that’s unlikely to happen any time soon, then parents that are Christian should at least be informed, be aware that having an LGBT child is something that CAN happen to them (and for some of them WILL happen), and have some sort of plan for showing such a child the love of God even if they can’t condone/support them. And they need to know the sad reality of what their attempts to “fix” their child might cost them.

  3. Victoria Grace Howell on December 31, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    This is a really excellent post. Bravo! I too struggle with depression and Leelah/Joshua’s decision was not the answer. His issues obviously ran much deeper than just his identity issues.

    • Calvin Konop on December 31, 2014 at 10:55 pm

      I think you mean “she” and “her.” Right?

    • Calvin Konop on December 31, 2014 at 11:02 pm

      Also, I’d love to hear your take on what issues that Leelah had other than gender identity and a non-supportive family (or non-condoning if you like that better.

      • Jon Hill on January 1, 2015 at 3:24 am

        Obviously Leelah didn’t feel love from her parents as was made apparent in the note, and that’s the only look into her life we have right now. If that perception is true or not is a difference story because like I said, depression clouds the mind. You can love someone without condoning what they do. This kid needed help, and not for sin; for a disease. Jesus didn’t tell people to repent BEFORE healing them, He met their needs and then told them to sin no more. All this kid needed was a family to cover her in love and to not make her feel condemned. That would have saved her life. But instead, Christians have this backwards sense of how to operate where we have to help everyone by disrespecting them and telling them they were wrong.

      • Victoria Grace Howell on January 1, 2015 at 6:31 pm

        I’m calling him by his true gender. He wasn’t a girl, and he never could a girl. No transgender person could be. That’s the reality. It’s biologically impossible. Mangling oneself through surgical procedures will in the end not change one’s X and/or Y genes.

        I’m not looking for a fight, but since you asked my opinion I’ll tell you. Like the article said depression was definitely an issue. Also from Joshua/Leelah’s letter we only get his side of the story. Teenagers have a way of blowing things out of proportion and the depression would exasperate that. And the aggression and hatred he felt toward his parents was disturbing to say the least. You don’t know what he put his parents through. As a witness to my rebellious teenage sister, teens can rain hellfire.

        The parents could have been kinder or maybe they were like this teen described and/or they just did not know how to handle this. If they were true Christians then they know homosexuality/transgenderism is wrong. Look at the story of Sodom and Gomorrah or 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 in the Bible.

        It is sinful thus it is a temptation. But it is a temptation that can be overcome. Take this testimony by Dennis Jernigen who was a homosexual then God brought him out of it (http://www.dennisjernigan.com/djs-story). Saying that God cannot bring a homosexual back to Him is limiting His power.

        Homosexuals are sinners. That doesn’t mean we should treat them badly, that is definitely not something Jesus would want, but that doesn’t mean we accept their practices as good. That is the same as accepting an addict’s drug habit or an alcoholic’s drinking as good when it is obviously harming them. It is a twisted mindset, but we should love homosexuals just like we would love any other sinner whatever the sin is.

        • Calvin Konop on January 2, 2015 at 11:31 pm

          I wouldn’t say that I’m “looking for a fight” either, but comments are so deliberately ignorant and self-righteous (and what I would guess is based on regurgitating drivel you’ve heard from various pulpits) that I couldn’t help but ask for clarification. And your newest response is almost exactly what I expected.

          First, you’re not calling her by her true gender. Gender and sex are two completely different things, and both offer a spectrum. Just google “what’s the difference between gender and sex?” I’m not familiar with every form that gender takes on, but I can tell you that you can’t just lump every transgendered person into being “homosexual”…cause they’re two completely different things. Just so I’m clear, being transgendered has no direct correlation to sexual attraction. Also, “mangling oneself through surgical procedures” is hyperbole. You could say the same thing about any surgery that alters anything about your body – like a nose job or a bi-pass in heart surgery…what terrible ways to ‘mangle’ your body! I’m being serious, do some reading on the gender spectrum; it’s a big world. As for chromosomes, well, do some reading on that, too.

          I work with teens. I oversee 150 Jr. Highers and 40 Sr. Highers, and I know how they can blow things about of proportion. I also work with adults, and I know how they can blow things out of proportion. You don’t know what she put her parents through in the same way that I don’t know what she put her parents through. Don’t pretend like you do. Familial discord contributed to, or even exasperated the situation – but I only say that because she said that. You projecting your own family’s experiences, and how you interpreted those experiences, into Leelahs life is insensitive and a really bad way to show empathy (if you were even trying to show it).

          Sodom and Gomorrah…what a commonly cited story for this issue. Amos talked about Sodom and Gomorrah, and explains that God destroyed them because of how they treated their poor and aliens. Jude talks about Sodom and Gomorrah, and the majority of scholars agree that Jude says it’s destroyed because of practices of bestiality. Tons of scholars even go as far to say that the cities were destroyed because of their egregious lack of hospitality. And if you want to get really into what scripture says, than if an angry mob goes to your parents house when you’re there, and they demand to have sex with a male guest of yours, then your dad should probably offer you and your sister up to the mob to make sure that he’s being a really decent guy to his guest. That’s the godly thing to do, anyway. As for 1 Corinthians 6:9, I was speaking to a friend of mine today about the passage. I’d go into it, but this comment would be super long. What I can say is that it’s not nearly as clear as you’re making it seem, and it almost definitely isn’t talking about homosexuality. If you’re not convinced do some reading into it, and if you’re still not convinced I can explain it more thoroughly in another comment.

          The last two paragraphs you write is where we’ll have the most disagreement because it comes down to a few key theological beliefs, some views on scripture, and some interpretations. I don’t believe that the Bible ever addresses the issue of homosexuality (and definitely not being trans of any kind). I also know that it wasn’t used in english translations of the Bible until the word was actually made in the 1800’s.

          You are a sinner. You, Victoria Grace Howell, are a big time sinner. Guess what? Me too! I think the important thing to realize is that there is grace for everyone, gay / straight / addict / murderer / pedophile / liar / church-goer / atheist, etc. Do yourself a favor and focus on the grace part before trying to heal the gay away from complete strangers.

        • Calvin Konop on January 11, 2015 at 12:15 am

          I’m really disappointed that you never responded, for agreement or otherwise. I’m assuming that, by your silence, you’re telling me that you still disagree?

  4. Drew Koehler on December 31, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    There are posts that make me proud, and there are posts that make me exude pride in Christians and this one has me enamored with what some of you are doing. What an amazing post and very amazing and key points presented well. Thank you for writing this as I believe people need to hear it.

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