On Leela Alcorn and the Stigmatization of Sexual Identity

“Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The live I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender… I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4… When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness… 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… 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 [C]hristians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help…  Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted… So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends… I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness…  I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse… That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me.”
— Excerpts from Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note
(http://lazerprincess.tumblr.com/post/106447705738/suicide-note)

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On December 28, 2014 — three days after Christmas — 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn took her own life by deliberately jumping in front of a tractor trailer. News of her death spread like wildfire through not just the American media, but internationally, and the world fell into mourning for this girl, who just so happened to have been born male, and how the lack of support she had ultimately led her to take her life into her own hands and toss it into the wind. She killed herself because of perpetual loneliness and the menacing red eyes of bigotry, not just from her peers, but from her parents as well.

Leelah Alcorn’s suicide is a tragedy that could have been prevented if social dynamics weren’t still consumed in “traditional” ideologies, philosophies that still have one foot in the past instead of sprinting into the future. Her suicide stems from Leelah becoming a social pariah and from a lack of support from the people who matter the most — family. Leelah’s parents were strict Fundamentalist Christians who viewed her sexual orientation as an “abomination,” who forced Leelah into isolation, repeated Christian-based therapy models, and even reparative therapy (also called conversion therapy), pseudo-scientific techniques designed to transition a person from homosexuality to heterosexuality that have been deemed unethical and harmful by a variety of medical and scientific organizations, such as the American Psychiatric Association and the Pan American Health Organization.

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“War. Rape. Murder. Poverty. Equal rights for gays. Guess which one the Southern Baptist Convention is protesting?”
— Amitai Etzioni, “The Value of Families”

Basically, Leelah Alcorn’s suicide can be attributed to bigotry and the loss of self-preservation perpetual bigotry breeds in its victims. Suicide is by no means an easy resort to which one can subscribe, but given the stripping of humanity that comes with perpetual bigotry — especially bigotry that manifests in regard to a characteristic the victim cannot control — the psychological ability to preserve one’s life deteriorates and the drive to stop the pain continues to intensify. At a certain point, death becomes the only way out and to Leelah Alcorn, the social scorn her parents continued to abuse her with pushed her beyond that threshold. This is why she jumped in front of a tractor-trailer — her parents, and the stigmatized, bigoted social order to which they subscribed, pushed her to it.

A significant portion of blame should be shouldered on the Fundamentalist Christian principles to which Leelah Alcorn’s parents adhered. Fundamentalism teaches that homosexual acts (laying with mankind as with womankind) are an “abomination” deserving of death (Leviticus 20:13), so by extension, sexual orientations outside of heterosexuality are, themselves, an “abomination” deserving of death. Since it is against the law to commit murder based on sexual orientation, the part about non-heterosexual acts being deserving of death is typically left out (save for some radicals to take the scriptures absolutely literally), but the passage is still used for justification of their bigotry. However, this is just another example of cherry-picking the Bible to suit a perverted, bigoted ideology, for Leviticus also calls several other arbitrary actions abominable and deserving of death, such as using the Lord’s name in vain (Leviticus 24:16), being a spiritualist (Leviticus 20:27), and committing adultery (Leviticus 20:10). Leviticus further labels abomination to eating pork (Leviticus 11:7-8) and shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-12), condones human slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46), and prohibits the cutting or trimming of one’s hair and beard (Leviticus 19:27). Obviously, most of these laws are not adhered to by many Fundamentalist Christians (as many evangelists are clean-cut and/or groomed and many 19th-Century American Baptists were abolitionists), so obviously, the fear of committing an abominable act does not extend to every piece of scripture that deems certain actions to be abominable. Basically, the laws in Leviticus are subjective in the eyes of many who spout their legitimacy when it comes to homosexuality.

Of course, these people do not consider themselves bigots. Just like they did not consider themselves bigots when they believed the institution of marriage should never cross racial lines, or when they believed women should not be allowed to vote, or even in the modern-day, when they believe secularists should be second-tier citizens to Christians and that their lack of faith is dangerous to the public.

Just by using common sense, one cannot make their beliefs and their advocacy conditional without coming across as a bigot. For someone to stand firm in their belief that African-Americans are equal to their Caucasian counterparts (a philosophy supported by an overwhelming majority of people in the United States, even Fundamentalist Christians), then they must also acknowledge that equality to LGBT men and women. To not do so, the person announces themselves to be a hypocrite when it comes to civil rights and social equality, as sexual orientation, much like race, is not a chosen characteristic, but an inherent one. Sexual orientation has been genetically linked to genetic transmissions from the maternal side, chromosomal region Xq28 (Hamer, et al. 1993), so by logical extension, discrimination against sexual orientation — whether through blatant discrimination, such as violence or segregation, or through institutional discrimination, such as the denial of civil rights (matrimonial proceedings, for example) — is not any different than discriminating on the basis of race. Even more egregious is the social stigmatization of LGBT people through their sexual practices, and, in what is probably the most egregious discriminatory standpoint on sexual orientation, the idea that sexual identity can be manipulated into a socially-acceptable one via things like intense prayer and reparative therapy. In the tragic case of Leela Alcorn, the latter was considered an option.

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“We recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.”
— 2014 Texas GOP Platform

Leelah Alcorn’s parents went to great lengths to force Leelah to change her sexuality. Their methods were ideologically-based, as Leelah mentioned in her suicide note. Her therapists told her she was “selfish” and “wrong” and that she should “look to God for help,” but ultimately never gave her the “therapy [she] needed to cure [her] of [her] depression” (Alcorn 2014).

Beyond the notion that non-heterosexual orientations are completely biological in nature and thus are not an “abomination,” conversion therapy is an unethical, barbarous, torturous, and maligned practice with zero medical and scientific credibility. Conversion therapy does significant harm to those who are forced into it. It’s nothing more than abuse. As a society, we cannot stand for this practice that does serious, and in some cases irreparable, harm to men and women and boys and girls who do not deserve to be treated as if their sexual orientation is an illness or a disease. Conversion therapy is a heinous practice that does not fall in line with what is right ethically and punishes non-heterosexuals for a genetic characteristic. This is no different than forcing someone into a program designed to change their skin color.

Leelah’s tragic suicide has prompted mobilization among LGBT advocates to petition for the passing of “Leelah’s Law,” a bill that would be designed to ban reparative therapy in the United States. The petition has gained nearly 174,000 signatures (as of January 1, 2015) and has been shared vehemently through social media and other methods of public awareness. Reparative therapy is a barbaric practice, one that forces the recipient to forsake themselves for the sake of perceived social normalcy and to view their naturally-occurring impulses as anything but.

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“We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. It is time now to write the next chapter — and to write it in the books of law.”
— Lyndon Baines Johnson

I can’t say with absolute certainty whether the tragic death of Leelah Alcorn will cause swift and monumental change the collective consciousness of the United States’ citizenry and their views on the civil rights of LGBT Americans or if Leelah Alcorn’s suicide will just end up another statistic, but the impact of her suicide cannot be underwhelmed. We’re talking about it. We’re writing about it. LGBT rights is the new Civil Rights Movement and just like in the mid-20th Century, the government is split on what it can do and what it wants to do. Evangelism and Fundamentalism have become platforms on which to stand politically and many who wield the power to give LGBT men and women the same full-on set of rights their heterosexual counterparts enjoy simply will not do it for any reason that is not religious in nature. Large swaths of society continue to hinge their notions of social equality on outdated (and even misinformed) Biblical principles and while there are also large swaths of the public that oppose the aforementioned notions, the gridlock that ensues cripples the efficiency in which changes need to be made.

In 2013, when the United States Supreme Court struck down California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, conservatives in the media, the government, and the populous spoke out in defiance of the decision, with their reasoning being almost explicitly religious in nature. They called marriage a Christian tradition (which it exclusively is not) and claimed that the allowance of LGBT men and women to participate in matrimony threatened not only their Christian values, but the sanctity of their own marriages. Unfortunately, there are many within the United States who feel that equality and social freedom is a conditional philosophy. Their cries eerily mirror the cries of bigots and white supremacists who challenged integration and interracial marriages in the mid-20th century. Their defiance creepily resonated like the men who challenged giving women the right to vote in the early-20th century. Their seething discontent bore little difference from Confederate whites who started a war over the issue of slavery and their hostilities echoed thousands of years of men and women being resistant to progressing into a more open, accepting, and ethically sound society.

It is further unfortunate that for LGBT equality to take place in our society, laws must be enacted to curb the bigoted and hostile behavior in which some indulge to suit their ideological philosophies. It took until 2009, with the passing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, for gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to be added to federal hate crime statutes. It took over one-hundred years following the abolition of slavery for African-Americans in the United States to enjoy full citizenship benefits. It seems that we are unable, as a society, to embrace change because it is right. We must embrace change because it is deemed illegal not to. What does that say about us? Why are we so consumed by our differences and the assessment of those differences from a religiously zealous position? Why are we so unable to see people for people, to see that all blood is red, that all hearts beat, that all of us cry, and laugh, and feel, and that all of us are human? For what good reason do we have to discriminate against anyone? There are no benefits to discrimination, except those that benefit someone’s horrid ideology. Discrimination does not benefit society, it benefits bigotry, and nothing but. We have come too far as a civilization to keep relying on separatism, especially when those aligned with these philosophies do so solely to hate on a group of people for a ridiculous reason that only serves a selfish, hateful philosophy.

Leelah Alcorn was no different than you or I. She was a person and as a person, she deserved to be looked upon as a person. If she had been, she might still be with us today and this essay would have never been written.

“Gender is between your ears and not between your legs.”
— Chaz Bono

Citations

Alcorn, Leelah. “Suicide Note.” Satan’s Wifey. Tumblr.com, n.d. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Hamer, D., S. Hu, V. Magnuson, N. Hu, and A. Pattatucci. “A Linkage between DNA Markers on the X Chromosome and Male Sexual Orientaton.” Science 261.5119 (1993): 321-27. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Leviticus. King James Version. Bible Gateway, n.d. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Transgender Human Rights Institute. “Enact Leelah’s Law to Ban Transgender Conversion Therapy.” Change.org. 28 Dec 2014. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

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About Robert L. Franklin

Ah, the About Me section - social networking's excuse for you sounding like an elitist prick. Hmm... what to say? What to say?
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5 Responses to On Leela Alcorn and the Stigmatization of Sexual Identity

  1. Dr. Rex says:

    Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    This is a reality that needs to be looked at, accepted, addressed and dealt with!!

  2. You have written an effective and wise analysis of one of our biggest problems today. God bless that poor young lady!

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