This past week, like so many other transgender people, I carried out my daily activities with a heavy heart and anger. A transgender 17-year-old named Leelah Alcorn committed suicide on December 28.
In a suicide note posted, but since deleted, from her Tumblr, Leelah wrote that when she told her mom about being transgender, her mother “reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes.” Leelah wrote that she was subsequently taken to Christian therapists, who reinforced the notion that being transgender was “wrong.” In an interview with CNN, Leelah’s parents claim they were loving parents, and that they just wanted to do the best for their child. Her mother Carla said that she took Leelah, who she referred to as Josh, to a psychiatrist, who prescribed medication, and that her child was depressed but only talked to her once about being transgender.
If you know anything about the very real state of having gender dysphoria, you know that telling him or her it is wrong is one of the worst things in the world a transgender person can hear. It deepens the depression transgender people already seek help for because we suffer from having a body that does not match our mind. In addition, we deal with our rejection from society, with those who slam us for having this mental health condition in the first place, and those who don’t believe it’s a real thing.
I know all this because I’ve experienced it myself. I’ve been through conversion therapy, albeit when I was an adult and with the privilege of being able to refuse the treatment if I wanted to. Conversion therapy is treatment whose goal is to change homosexuals to heterosexuals, and to convince transgender people to identify with the sex and gender they are born as. I cannot express how harmful it was to my psyche, and I became suicidal when I went through it.
Fortunately, I had a means of escape. Leelah, it seems, had none. As many transgender people do, Leelah reportedly came out as gay even though she was not, in order make others happy. She felt even more isolated after her parents forbade her from interacting on social media. She reached out online for help from the outside.
As she writes in her suicide letter, Leelah felt hopeless and alone, resigned to living her life “like a man in drag.” What the medical community has stated time and time again is that transgender people who suffer from gender dysphoria should seek therapy by licensed professionals.
While we as Americans denounce the cruelty of other countries that engage in torture—and our own—the cries of tortured transgender children in this country have fallen upon deaf ears because of bigotry and religious beliefs that have zero place being inserted into anything resembling mental health therapy.
Conversion therapy is unconscionable. It should rightfully be called what it is: child abuse. It is banned in California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., and legislation is pending in other states. It should be illegal in all states, and those who break the law should be locked up.
I’m not objecting to all religious beliefs, so long as one can separate those beliefs from actual medicine. But the point at which a religious belief means abusing American citizens is the point at which religious freedom ends.
We cannot allow religious beliefs to cross the line of medicine and abuse our youth. Those in opposition to this reasonable mindset often fight tooth and nail to keep that line in the sand at bay. In this process, innocent children with other medical problems are hurt, and in some cases even die. The more progressive minded are in uproar over that. It’s about time that they recognize transgender kids who endure the same.
There are steps that can be taken to prevent more deaths. Talk about this with family and friends and bring awareness to the issue. But the greatest way to stop the abuse is to sign the Leelah’s law petition to ban transgender conversion therapy.
Fallon Fox is a professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter, transgender athlete, and LGBT activist.