The life and death of a Greater Cincinnati transgender teenager, born Joshua Alcorn, but later known as Leelah Alcorn, is incredibly tragic. [Josh], had known since [he] was 4 years old that something was different about [him]; [he] felt like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, with no idea how to escape. Finally, when [he] was 14 years old, [he] found out there was a name for this situation: transgender. Leelah was born. Her ten-year labor and birth was disregarded by her own parents like a bastard child of a shamed teenage mother, unwilling and unprepared to accept and embrace the reality of the gift she had been given. Leelah’s parents tried to fight Leelah back into obscurity with everything their religious beliefs had to offer, in order to “regain their son,” Josh, whom they raised and loved.
With their image damaged and their religion tested, the Alcorns felt a need to pull Leelah from traditional school and continue her education at home, online. Further discoveries of what they considered inappropriate materials led them to prevent Leelah from using any forms of social media. Leelah was essentially cut off from her friends. The only people she had contact with were her family and people at church – both groups representing oppression and negative judgment, forcing Leelah into isolation and depression. Her parents made token attempts to help, but ended up making things worse. Leelah was prescribed increasing amounts of antidepressants and was sent to a therapist. This therapy, however, was something I had never heard of but apparently is quite a hot-button issue. It is called conversion therapy and it has been deemed harmful by many and even outlawed in some states. The apparent goal of this therapy is to use some bad religion to convert the person to a “normal,” heterosexual christian. Ultimately, all of the methods the Alcorns used left Leelah without any true sense of love, acceptance, or HOPE. They soon found themselves without hope of ever “regaining their son” Josh, when Leelah stepped in front of a semi-trailer on I-71 and died at the scene.
My goal is to simply offer a fresh perspective and possibly bridge a gap of misunderstanding. Believe me, I am neither a therapist, counselor, psychologist, nor psychiatrist. I am neither a pastor, reverend, expert, nor someone close to the situation. Additionally, I do not represent a group or organization involved with political activism or lobbying, especially associated with this particular issue. What I am, is a father and a person whose heart breaks with every detail released about this story. With respect to this subject, I have a particular interest because my oldest daughter, Madeline, is a lesbian. I know it is not the same as the situation laid out in this story, but it is relevant.
They share a theme of someone realizing a difference between themselves and the majority of people around them. As Madeline told me, “You’re constantly affirmed of who you are because everyone around you is like you.” She added, that’s not the case with transgender people. It never used to be the case with homosexuals, which is why there were so many too ashamed to come out. Consequently, both share a longing for a similar sense of affirmation, acceptance and desire to be loved and treated just like anyone else, but with respect for their individualism. Also, these self-realizations have been met with a lot of self-doubt and questions of whether God loves them. That’s why it is crucial for them to have people in their lives that can model that love for them.
I am a Christian. Born, raised and educated in the Catholic faith, I decided my relationship with God is better cultivated in a non-denominational Christian environment. In fact, my faith has consistently been put to the fire and I continue to be refined by it. This story is a good example of a refining moment. It has brought to the forefront many of my own thoughts and emotions; making me acknowledge them, deal with them, and as this post accomplishes, articulate and admit them in a public manner. The public admission being the most challenging because it becomes more real and makes me vulnerable. It also leaves me open to public scrutiny, which admittedly, gives me even more reason to reevaluate.
One thing that troubles me about this story and others like it, is the perception people develop of God and Christianity. The fact that Leelah’s parents are devout Christians, which “justifies” how they handled the situation, causes many people to demonize Christianity and Christians as a whole. Of course, that’s not too much of a stretch for those in the LGBTQ community, since many of them have already been incorrectly convinced that God doesn’t love them. I believe, however, they can understand the danger and the damage created with the use of negative generalizations and the resulting prejudice. Another thing that troubles me is when religion and FAITH are confused. Many Christians, among others, exploit individual parts of the Bible while ignoring the grand message. They are so faithful to their specific religion that they completely fail to convey their faithfulness to God. Meanwhile, others – a child, for example – pay the consequences. Christians are humans, too. It’s not realistic to expect every (or any, for that matter) Christian to fully represent and appropriately live out God’s will for us. It certainly is the goal, but not an expectation. Even God knows and admits that. The expectation, however, is that Christians possess and display the humility that Jesus modeled in order to recognize their faults and put LOVE of others before personal pride, public image, or anything else. It has to be love they can recognize and feel.
Ten years ago, I would not have anywhere near the same perspective I have now. Due to friends and coworkers and especially because of Madeline, I have grown exponentially in awareness, knowledge and wisdom, with respect to all things related to the LGBTQ community; and I am still learning. What I wish for the LGBTQ crowd is that they will understand that God does not condemn them any more than any other sinner, including myself. We are all sinners, because we all fall short of God’s glory. This is how I can say God knows and admits that we can’t live a perfect life because it is through the life, death and resurrection of His perfect Son – Jesus – that we are offered salvation from the death (the chosen eternal rebellion and separation from God) we deserve. This is the message so many people continue to miss – the Good News! We don’t have to focus on the things that condemn us or divide us. We can and should celebrate what saves us and brings us together – the love of God!
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV
Love is a noun and a verb. It isn’t something you can hide behind. It has to be on display as a representation of who you are and what you believe. There is nothing to love about Leelah Alcorn’s story. Her life was tragic and her death was even more so. Everywhere you look, people are suffering – internally and/or externally – from something. Leelah wanted her death to “mean something.” Unfortunately, taking her own life (without regard for others directly affected, like the driver of the truck) really only means that another person has fallen victim to a misrepresentation of faith, the absence of hope and love that fell aimlessly into the abyss of misunderstanding. The true meaning that must result is in the lives of the rest of us.
I have no doubt the Alcorns had a strong love for their child. They just didn’t understand or accept who their child was. It’s easy to criticize or accuse. It’s easy to defend and protect. It’s easy to take something from this story and blow it up into a national campaign. Life isn’t about doing what’s easy. It’s about doing what’s right and necessary. In this case, we all need to show each other love by listening, learning and doing our best to understand. Most importantly, by not judging and condemning. We need to offer a sense of hope that whatever suffering someone may be going through, it is temporary. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if that tunnel is down a completely different road than the one we’re traveling. We all must have faith that even when doing the right thing feels wrong, the reward will come. So, whatever your religion or prejudices, love one another as much as you love yourself.
As always, I welcome any and all questions or comments. This issue is very important and very difficult. It has taken me a few days to process through the many varied feelings I have had in order to produce the most understanding, objective perspective possible. As I stated, I am still learning. No matter where you are in your own process, I respect your honesty. If you have no intention to learn, grow and develop, and only want to sensationalize and brutalize, then please choose to be respectful by keeping any cruel or inappropriate comments to yourself. Remember, everybody lost something in this story!
Below are a few links to news stories and columns about this story. Please take a few minutes to view them.