#DrewsViews: Leelah Alcorn

by Drew Adams

It’s the end of December, and in the middle of a winter break full of work and friends and getting through my reading list, I’m stopping for a minute to reflect. I’m not reflecting on the holidays or my family — I’m thinking about someone I never met but who has had a big impact on my life. Her name was Leelah Alcorn.

Leelah was a 17-year-old transgender girl who did not have support from her family. Her parents never accepted her as a girl, and she wrote that their treatment of her was alienating and lonely. They sent her to conversion therapy and kept her from social media. On December 28, 2014, Leelah committed suicide, but she left behind a note calling out her parents for their behavior and saying she hoped her death would make the world talk about trans discrimination and the need for support for trans people.

When Leelah died, I was 14. I wasn’t completely aware yet of my own trans identity — I just knew something about me was different, but I didn’t have the words to describe it. I heard about Leelah’s death and I knew how tragic and wrong it was. I knew something precious had been lost. My mom and I lit a candle in her honor, but I didn’t know at the time just how important Leelah would be to my journey.

Leelah’s death got attention worldwide. She was not the first or last trans girl to give up in the face of an unsupportive family, but she became the face of the struggles of trans kids everywhere. Advocates and activists spoke out in her name on behalf of the trans community. A proposed national law, “Leelah’s Law,” would have banned conversion therapy in the US, and even though it didn’t pass, it did get hundreds of thousands of supporters on petitions and support from President Obama. Suddenly, the rights of trans people and the truth of society’s treatment of us became very visible and very important. As people looked at Leelah’s mirror selfie, her hip cocked as she tried on a cute dress, they saw someone of value. They saw a girl who deserved to be loved.

Much like the way Matthew Shepard’s death was a turning point for support for gay rights in America, Leelah’s death was a turning point for trans rights. She felt that she had nothing left for her in this world, but she wrote this in her suicide note: “My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s [expletive] up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.” She knew she wasn’t alone and that other trans young people struggled the way she did. She died not completely hopeless, but with one hope: that we as a society would learn from her experience.
We’re still a long way from a perfect world for trans people. Conversion therapy is banned in many states and cities, but not in all of them. There are still parents kicking their kids out for being trans, and there are still kids who hide who they are so that they can still live at home instead of on the street. We’re still losing too many trans people to suicide and violence. But it’s getting better, bit by bit. Leelah’s story is part of every trans person’s experience. Her loss has motivated and inspired so many of us to keep fighting for equality. As I came out as trans a few months after her death and saw the hurdles that were in front of me, I thought about her and her struggles. Any time I got tired of fighting, I thought of her and the other trans activists who have been fighting long before me and who will fight long after me. Her experience has made me grateful for my supportive family and for the life I’ve had a chance to lead, and her fight to live her truth has made me so proud to be the trans man I am. She wanted her death to mean something, and now, I’m making my LIFE mean something.

Leelah asked us to “Fix society. Please.” I wish I had known her. I wish I could tell her how she’s inspired me and that I won’t stop trying to make her last wish a reality. She’s with me on my path, and her legacy lives on in me and in every trans young person trying to make the world a better place.

Rest in power, Leelah Alcorn. You are loved, now and always.

About the Author:

Drew Adams is a transgender high school senior from Ponte Vedra, FL, who is committed to LGBTQ advocacy at the local and national levels. He serves as his high school GSA’s president and raises money for Northeast Florida’s LGBTQ youth outreach, JASMYN, to which he also donates food, toiletries and school supplies. Nationally, Drew serves as a youth ambassador and advocacy volunteer for The Trevor Project, a youth social media ambassador for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and a Volunteer and Intern Coordinator for Point of Pride. On the legislative side, Drew lobbies for the Equality Act by visiting with his Congressional representatives and their staff.

Additionally, Drew has spent years fighting to change his school district’s bathroom policy to be trans-inclusive, and the fight is still ongoing. Drew is an International Baccalaureate student and a volunteer at the Mayo Clinic, and he hopes to go to medical school and become an adolescent psychiatrist specializing in transgender health. For fun, he practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, creates sculpture art and plays the piano.