By Lexie Solomon
In the early hours of the morning on Dec. 28, only days after Christmas, a 17-year-old transgender girl from Ohio walked onto the highway in front of an oncoming tractor-trailer. Her name was Leelah Alcorn.
Within three days, a petition was created by the Transgender Human Rights Institute to “call upon the President of the United States and the Leadership of the House and Senate to immediately seek a pathway for banning the practice known as ‘transgender conversion therapy.’”
By Jan. 2, the petition not only had over 200,000 signatures, but encouraged people across the country to speak out about the mistreatment of transgender individuals and the incredible harm caused by conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy is part of a concept, supported by many right-wing, religious groups, that homosexuality and gender dysphoria are mental disorders that can be cured through a number of different “treatments.” Despite the absurdity of it, and the condemnation from “every major medical and mental health organization in the United States,” this form of therapy has only been banned in two states. It may seem like something out of American Horror Story, and it is.
Electroshock and aversion therapy were common methods, and aversion therapy still is today. These methods are physically harmful and mentally damaging. They implant the notion that being gay or transgender is wrong. While there is nothing wrong with these individuals, intensive therapy leads them to believe that they are “incurable.” This is a major cause for the 50 percent of transgender teens who will attempt suicide at least once before they turn 20.
In a time where our country is so focused on anti-bullying and zero tolerance, we cannot allow trusted adults and “professionals” to tell our children that how they feel about their bodies, gender, sexualities, and overall identities is wrong. It is unacceptable to allow our youth to believe that they have mental illnesses or defects because of their sexuality or gender identity. It is time to allow people to be themselves and to accept that who they are is not debatable.
Leelah Alcorn’s parents dismissed her feelings, justifying their refusal to accept her with religion. She was eventually pulled out of school and isolated for months when she told her classmates she was gay, hoping to ease into the transition. She had no outside support from friends and was constantly shamed in her own home. As a result, she was put into therapy to “fix” her.
The therapy that Alcorn endured was enough to make her believe she could never be content. She was rejected and ostracized, especially when her parents refused to let her begin hormone treatments. Because of the intensive, bias conversion therapy, she felt she could never express herself as a girl.
It is unknown how many transgender teenagers commit suicide every year, partly because many of them have not come out as transgender, or their families will not admit it, but Leelah joined them. We cannot view Leelah solely as a statistic, especially because she wanted her death to affect public opinion toward transgender teens.
In her public suicide note, she called for awareness and change. Banning these forms of “therapy” will not fix everything. It will not end the discrimination, ridicule and overall harassment that transgender individuals face on a daily basis. We cannot continue to ostracize the LGBTQ community and make them believe that they need to be “fixed.” Banning such “therapies” will provide transgender teens with one less place to be told who they are is not okay, and for teens facing constant unacceptance, one place can make all the difference.