Saturday, January 3, 2015

It's time to acknowledge that tolerance of intolerance kills

Leelah Alcorn died last Sunday. After years of censorship, castigation and rejection of her gender identity by strict Christian parents, Leelah took her own life. At 17, she is dead. What a tragedy.

In her suicide note, posted to Tumblr, Leelah wrote about her home life, and how her parents reacted to learning their son, Joshua, was actually a girl. And it's hard to read:
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 'f*** 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. (emphasis added)
Leelah's parents have since deleted the note, but it can be found elsewhere online. This is a terrible story, a tragic illustration of the consequences that prioritizing religious beliefs over people can have. Leelah's pain and isolation is palpable through her words, and her desperation far too apparent in her final act: escape from a life of misery.

We hear these stories far too often. Sometimes, as in the death of Lizzie Lowe last month, the families of the deceased -- despite the fervency of their belief -- would actually have chosen their child over their religious beliefs. Sometimes parents don't realize the impact of their homo- or trans- phobia until it's too late. Those are parents who thought they were doing the right thing, and too late realized just how wrong they were. They were perpetrators, but victims too -- victims of an ideology that taught them to hate instead of love, to judge and condemn and guilt instead of building, supporting and cherishing; and all of this, they were told, was love. Too late, they discovered the impact of the lies they'd been sold: that their pastor's, their church's, their community's idea of "love" was utterly destructive.

It's easy to condemn those parents, but it misses the larger problem. They are not guiltless, certainly, but despite the impact of their actions, they weren't people who meant to cause harm. They were sold a package of divine lies that destroyed the life of a person they should have cherished; and, now that it's too late, they recognize that. And have to live with their guilt.

It's harder to muster a sympathetic outlook for parents like Leelah's, who, despite pretty obviously contributing to their child's death, even now, after seeing the impact of their actions, after their own dead child spelled it out so clearly, cling to those beliefs.

Refusing to acknowledge their daughter's identity even in death.
Refusing to acknowledge that her death resulted from their own preference of religious beliefs to their child's happiness, health and even life.
Still preferring those religious beliefs to Leelah.

Leelah's mother, Carla, described her daughter's death thus on Facebook:
He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck. Thank you for the messages and kindness and concern you have sent our way. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts.

Speaking of transgenderism, she told CNN
"We don't support that, religiously," Alcorn's mother told CNN on Wednesday, her voice breaking. "But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy." (emphasis added)
Leelah's father, Doug, similarly clung to an his insistence that Leelah was a boy after all. In an email to WPCO, he wrote:
[subject] Joshua Alcorn and your visit this morning.

...We love our son, Joshua, very much and are devastated by his death. We have no desire to enter into a political storm or debate with people who did not know him. We wish to grieve in private. We harbor no ill will towards anyone. ... I simply do not wish our words to be used against us...(emphasis added)
The Alcorns can pay lip service to how unconditional their love was, but the fact is it wasn't and it isn't. Not even in death can they accept that Leelah's identity. Her last words call out their religious intolerance and denial of her identity...and they still repeat them.

Leelah Alcorn is dead. While strangers mourn her death, her own family insists that there was never a Leelah Alcorn at all. Her death was a tragedy. Her parents' refusal to accept her was and remains a travesty. And the ideology that prompts parents to reject their own children over such a non-issue, to drive them to such lengths and still call it love, is a monstrosity. 

Leelah asked that her death would mean something, that we'd work toward making the world a better, safer place for trans people.The only way we're ever going to get to that place is if we recognize that tolerance of intolerance destroys lives and, yes, even kills. It's not (just) horrible people who don't give a shit about their kids who do this; it's people who really think they're doing the right thing. People who have been brainwashed by ideologies that tell them that another person's life and happiness is worth less than their beliefs.

People have the right to preach hate, but we -- as a society -- need to start calling it what it is. For the sake of those who get caught up without realizing what they're doing, for the sake of those they influence, and most importantly for the sake of people like Leelah.
The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was, they're treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. 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 f***ed up' and fix it. Fix society.

-- Leelah Alcorn

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