Transgender suicide rate demands action

Tommy Collison, Deputy Opinion Editor

The suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender girl from Ohio, has renewed a national conversation on youth suicide and transgender rights. Alcorn’s suicide has received international attention in part due to a suicide note that she timed to publish on her blog after her death. In the letter she wrote that she would only rest in peace if “one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was.” Tumblr has since reoved the post, reportedly at the request of the parents. Laverne Cox, a transgender activist who spoke about about Alcorn on “The View,” said “isolation made [Leelah] feel that she would never be the woman she dreamed of becoming. She didn’t feel like she had any support.”

Alcorn’s suicide renewed calls from activists for a ban on Christian gender conversion therapy, a controversial practice which has been condemned by several medical organizations, including the the American Association of Pediatrics. The Obama administration must step up and ban conversion therapy on children and teens, which often amounts to little more than child abuse.

Alcorn’s death is part of a wider epidemic among the LGBTQ community. According to a 1989 U.S. government study, LGBTQ youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people. Meanwhile, a study from the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland reported that 78 percent of transgender individuals admitted to thinking of taking their own lives. Parents, teachers and administrators must be aware of the issues facing transgender youths if they are to offer meaningful, nonjudgmental support. At NYU, the LGBTQ Student Center provides resources for transgender and gender nonconforming students, faculty and staff. This includes regular programming to foster communities of transgender individuals, as well as resources to help students navigate university bureaucracy regarding changing the name and gender listed on enrollment forms. The student health center  also provides social and medical services for transgender students, including hormone therapy.

It is unclear what legal changes, if any, could be brought against Alcorn’s parents. Dan Savage, a gay activist and author, said on Twitter he believed Alcorn’s parents can and should be charged with child abuse. He referenced Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, used a webcam to record him kissing another man in his college dorm. Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail and given a $10,000 fine. Whether or not Alcorn’s parents can be charged, Alcorn’s suicide must be seen as a catalyst for legislative support for transgender youth. In 2012, President Barack Obama said he supported gay marriage, but he must go further. It is time to push legislation to protect transgender youth, starting with a ban on conversion therapy. Only then can we begin to lower the numbers of transgender individuals taking their own lives.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 26 print edition. Email Tommy Collison at [email protected].