How Many More Dead Kids?

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published on December 31, 2014.

Leelah Alcorn was 17 years old when she concluded that life was never going to get better for her.

Before she reached the point that she ended her life, Leelah endured years of spiritual abuse from her parents and from Christian counselors. Her parents eventually pulled her out of school to homeschool, keeping her isolated from her friends and support system by taking away her phone and laptop for months on end.

Here are some of her own words describing what she endured:

“When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. 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. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

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.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. 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.

I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. 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. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”

Leelah’s death hits me hard, she wasn’t just an LGBT kid, she was an LGBT homeschool kid, and her parents used homeschooling as a tool to isolate her, to try to turn her into the “perfect little straight Christian boy” they thought she should be. As a one-time homeschool kid, I have a feeling of affinity for other homeschool kids. Leelah was one of us, and now she’s gone.

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Just as surely as the homeschool kids who were beaten or starved by their parents, Leelah Alcorn is one of Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Leelah’s parents are just as responsible for her death as the parents who beat and starved their kids to death, but even though they drove their child to suicide, they’ll never see the inside of a jail cell. They’ll get sympathy, some will probably pat them on the back and tell them how they were good Christian parents doing all they could for a troubled child. Make no mistake though, Leelah’s death was entirely preventable, and if they had given her love and support instead of disappointment and loneliness, this story would have a different ending.

And to the pastor who told me recently that he was going to continue preaching anti-LGBT sermons because to do otherwise would be to disregard the unchanging Word of God, this is what happens. You have kids who are tormented by their church, by Christian counselors, by their parents, all because theology is more important than people.

Christians, if your theology results in a child stepping in front of a truck because she can’t imagine a world where her life will get anything but worse, then it’s time to reevaluate your theology.

A theology that leads to dead kids is wrong and immoral. Jesus said to let the little children come to Him, that whoever harms one of them should have a millstone put around his neck and be thrown into the sea. You’ve got it backwards, you’re tying the millstone around the child’s neck and calling it “love.”

I’m tired. Tired of the dead homeschool kids. Tired of the dead queer kids. Tired of the fact that the Evangelical world doesn’t care about the lives of either group.

Please, don’t let Leelah’s death be meaningless. Change the world and change yourselves so that there aren’t any more Leelahs. No kid should have to endure what she did.

RIP, Leelah.

*Both images taken from Leelah’s tumblr

10 comments

  • I wasn’t homeschooled but forced to attend a fundamentalist school. I learned to fit in to survive. But those years of torture left their scars. I wish there was a way to let these kids know there is hope – not continued discrimination and struggle when they turn 18. For many who live in isolated areas escaping after coming of age is daunting. Running away and faced with homelessness and all kinds of predators just reinforces the fears used to brainwash them into compliance.

  • Thank you for posting this. LGBT youth and especially trans youth are some of the most vulnerable children in our country. I have worked with LGBT youth who were kicked out of their homes, and reading stories like these I wonder if they had it better than the youth whose parents clamped down on control and tried to change them. There is a huge community of people ready to support LGBT youth who do not have the support of their families, and I hope that other children like Leelah find that community.

    I am learning a lot by reading this blog, and I appreciate the way you are speaking truth to power.

  • The ONLY solution for “dead homeschooled” kids is outlawing homeschooling. The only solution for ending the bullying of children by the adults in their lives is to JAIL THEM and REMOVE IRREVOCABLY ALL PARENTAL RIGHTS from any current and future children. It’s what they want to happen to gay parents.

    • That…. Is one of the worst ways to go about it…. Why would you not push for a reform in homeschooling? Why would you not push for a larger change then abolishing it all together? Do all homeschoolers go through trauma by being involved with homeschooling? Absolutely not. Do some kids need to be homeschooled, because of themselves getting bullied or for medical reasons? Absoultely. It would be a very foolish thing to outlaw homeschooling, and just throwing them all into the public school system. (which sucks)…. Now, you talked a little bit about, “If a kid is bullied by the adults then you must jail them and irrevocably remove all of the parental rights.” Or something like that.. Now, who decides if the kid is bullied? What process? What organization? Is it just purely based on what the kid says? Is it based upon some psychologist? You see, that would be absolutely foolish and honestly has no solvency.

  • thank you so much for posting this. this hit me so hard. she was a lgbt (specifically trans) homeschool kid. so am i. she was like me, and like all the friends i have stayed up all night with talking down from suicide attempts and panic attacks and paranoia, and all the friends who have done the same for me. we have supported each other in the absence of adults who care for our struggles. i have lost friends before, they have left panicked angry upset hopeless messages on blogs and forums and they have never posted again. or they have disappeared and the next thing posted on their blog/journal/forum account is a friend saying theyve committed suicide or just that they “passed away.” i feel the same way now: a tremendous sense of loss and failure. i hope in the coming months her death continues to prove to not be in vain. rest in power and in peace, leelah.
    tl:dr: deadfriendbyagainstme!.mp3

  • I am the parent of an adult on the LBGTQ spectrum. We went together to a vigil in Leelah’s honor. I would just like to share that through some combination of God’s good fortune and my own take on the Bible, we have always been gifted to be surrounded by not only Christians willing to love all, but also a number of ordained clergy who are also gay. Leelah’s death, and the “pray away the gay” style counseling that preceded it anger me. Ohio should have laws, as California has, to prevent parents from subjecting their children to such bunkum. And to the extent that home-schooling provides a cover and support for it, well shame on all such supporters. I just want to throw out, however, that issues do not disappear with the ability to attend a public school. I know that my child experience far worse discrimination than I will ever know within the anarchic hallways of public school. For one magic year there was a Gay-Straight-Alliance, but the teacher who sponsored it moved and the group disappeared. The principal scarcely noticed, much less cared, even when we sat in disciplinary hearings that were a direct result of hallway bullying. And even had he cared, he was too intimidated by parents who might raise a fuss should he take a stand in support of the notion that gay kids were in his high school and had a right to safety, self-expression and acceptance. We simply must overcome the notion that bigots have a religious right to bully and mistreat any groups that they wish–particularly within a public institution such as a school.

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