Leelah Alcorn lost her life to suicide on December 28th, 2014. She was abused and mistreated by her parents, who took her out of school, locked her in her room, and sent her to conversion therapy, all because Leelah was transgender. Leelah’s story always stuck out to me as she also lived in Ohio, and was only three days younger than me. But her story isn’t unique, and nearly two years later the transgender community still faces the same persecution that it always has.
On October 12th of this year, native Clevelander Brandi Bledsoe was found dead, with a plastic bag around her head -- on East 108th Street -- just three streets away from my home of seven years. She was murdered, presumably because of her gender identity.
According to The Advocate, 2016 has been the deadliest year on record for the transgender community, with at least 26 reported murders of trans individuals in the United States alone. And it isn’t surprising, with multiple presidential candidates -- such as Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz -- running campaigns which publicly denounced transgender individuals, labeling them as perverts and freaks. 2016 has also seen the passing of North Carolina’s now infamous House Bill 2 law (HB2), which made LGBT discrimination legal in the state. And now the United States has elected Mike Pence as Vice President, a man who has historically supported conversion therapy, the inhumane process which served to crush Leelah Alcorn’s spirit and arguably helped lead to her death.
The Human Rights Campaign as well as American Psychiatric Association have denounced the practice of conversion therapy, which seeks to repress a person’s gender identity or sexual identity through methods including electric shocks, sedative drugs and hypnosis. Needless to say, the practice is dangerous and archaic. President Barack Obama denounced conversion therapy in 2015, supporting a federal law which would ban the practice altogether. Unfortunately, under a Trump-Pence administration, this law is unlikely to ever pass.
I am transgender. I identify as female, was assigned male at birth, and was raised in a devout Catholic right-wing family. I was not allowed to express my identity throughout my childhood. I did not even learn what the term ‘transgender’ meant or that it applied to me until puberty had already affected my body irreversibly. Since coming into my own and coming out to my family and friends, I have been greeted with accepting smiles and outright hostility. Unfortunately for me, my family, especially my mother, were the ones on the less-than accepting side.
It’s been two years since I came out to my mother. I have been on hormone replacement therapy for six months and have been seeing a therapist since February. I was only able to take these steps because I came of legal age. Before then, every aspect of my life was dictated by my parents, and seeing an LGBT-friendly doctor and transitioning was not allowed. I am still unable to present as female in my own home, as I must keep my gender identity from my younger siblings or my mother will throw me out.
But I am one of the lucky ones. My life is not in danger, I have not been raped, murdered or driven to suicide. The transgender community has been beaten and broken to the point where our expectations are as low as ‘please don’t kill us’. It shouldn’t be this way.
Every November, we honor kids like Leelah Alcorn with Trans Awareness Month, culminating in November 20th’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. CSU’s Queer Student Alliance (QSA), in conjunction with Cleveland’s LGBT Center, held a march and a vigil to commemorate the day. Cleveland is fortunate enough to have enacted an LGBT anti-discrimination law this year, one which serves to better protect the trans community. We can only hope it helps.