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January 6, 2015

Transgender issues in the spotlight after teen’s death


The death of transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn has inspired a national conversation about society’s treatment of LGBTQ youth.

Alcorn died after walking in front of a tractor-trailer in Ohio last week. She left a suicide note on her Tumblr that detailed her family’s refusal to accept her gender identity and implored the world to treat transgender people better.

“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,” she wrote.

Alcorn wrote that her parents took her to “conversion therapy” to attempt to change her gender identity. The treatment has been widely discredited by major health institutions in the U.S. and linked to an increased risk of depression and self-harm. New Jersey and California have banned the therapy.

Alcorn’s death spurred a petition to ban conversion therapy, which has gained nearly 300,000 signatures so far. Transgender adults also shared their stories online using the hashtag #RealLiveTransAdult to give young people visible examples of transgender role models.

Transgender people are at an elevated risk for discrimination, homelessness, unemployment, sexual assault and suicide, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

42 percent of transgender women and 46 percent of transgender men have attempted suicide, approximately 10 times the national average, according to a 2014 UCLA study.

A lack of a supportive school network can increase the risk of self-harm in transgender youth. 55 percent of LGBT students reported verbal harassment, and 23 percent reported physical harassment at school due to their gender expression in the past year, according to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

Warm up questions
  1. What is a pronoun? Can you name some?
  2. What does LGBTQ stand for? Don’t know? See the definition page.
  3. What are some of the problems or pressure that you and your peers face? For example, pressure to do well at school, getting your driver’s license, etc.
  4. Who do you rely on for support? What do your parents or friends do to let you know that they support you? How do you support your friends and family?
  5. The Centers for Disease Control reported that “Suicide (i.e., taking one’s own life) is a serious public health problem that affects even young people. For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year.”  What might be some reasons that young people take their own lives?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What extra pressures and challenges do you think that LGBTQ teens face? Do you think it’s important for LGBTQ teens to have support from family and friends? Explain your answer.
  2. Why do you think it’s important to use the right pronoun when addressing or talking about a transgender or queer person? What message does using the correct pronoun send? What statement does sending your LGBTQ son or daughter to “conversion therapy” make?
  3. The quote below is taken from the suicide letter written by Leelah Alcorn and posted on her Tumblr. Do you think that transgender people will receive equal treatment by society within your lifetime? What would that look like? How can you be part of the solution?
  4. Do you think that the government should be involved in securing legal protection against discrimination of transgender people? Why might this legal support be especially important for transgender teens?
  5. What would you do if your LGBTQ friend or family member told you they were thinking about committing suicide? What if they told you to keep the information secret? How would telling a trusted adult be different than telling a group of your friends? Should you always take suicide threats seriously? Be thoughtful about, and explain, your answers.

If you need support, call the Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386.

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