Leelah Alcorn (November 15, 1997 – December 28, 2014) was an American transgender girl whose suicide attracted international attention. Alcorn had posted a suicide note to her Tumblr blog, writing about societal standards affecting transgender people and expressing the hope that her death would create a dialogue about discrimination, abuse and lack of support for transgender people.
Assigned male at birth and given the name Joshua Ryan Alcorn, she was raised in a conservative Christian household in Ohio. At age 14, she came out as transgender to her parents, Carla and Doug Alcorn, who refused to accept her female gender identity. When she was 16, they denied her request to undergo transition treatment, instead sending her to Christian-based conversion therapy with the intention of convincing her to reject her gender identity and accept her gender as assigned at birth. After she revealed her attraction toward males to her classmates, her parents removed her from school and revoked her access to social media. In her suicide note, Alcorn cited loneliness and alienation as key reasons for her decision to end her life and blamed her parents for causing these feelings. She committed suicide by walking out in front of oncoming traffic on the Interstate 71 highway.
Alcorn arranged for her suicide note to be posted online several hours after her death, and it soon attracted international attention across mainstream and social media. LGBT rights activists called attention to the incident as evidence of the problems faced by transgender youth, while vigils were held in her memory in the United States and United Kingdom. Petitions were formed calling for the establishment of “Leelah’s Law”, a ban on conversion therapy in the U.S., which received a supportive response from U.S. President Barack Obama. Within a year, the city of Cincinnati had criminalised conversion therapy. Alcorn’s parents were criticized for misgendering Leelah in comments that they made to the media, while LGBT rights activist Dan Savage blamed them for their child’s death and social media users subjected them to online harassment. They defended their refusal to accept their child’s identity and their use of conversion therapy by reference to their Christian beliefs.
Assigned male at birth, Alcorn was given the name Joshua Ryan Alcorn. She eventually rejected this forename, and in her suicide note signed herself “(Leelah) Josh Alcorn”. She was one of several children. Describing herself as being raised in a conservative Christian environment, she and her family attended the Northeast Church of Christ in Cincinnati, and had been featured in a profile of that church published in a 2011 article in The Christian Chronicle.
According to her suicide note, Alcorn had felt “like a girl trapped in a boy’s body” since she was four, and came to identify as a transgender girl from the age of fourteen, when she became aware of the term. According to her note, she immediately informed her mother, who reacted “extremely negatively” by claiming that it was only a phase and that God had made her a male, so she could never be a woman. She stated that this made her hate herself, and that she developed a form of depression. Her mother sent her to Christian conversion therapists, but there “only got more Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.” Aged sixteen, she requested that she be allowed to undergo transition treatment, but was denied permission: “I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.”