Yesterday (December 30) MTV News reported that transgender teen Leelah Alcorn had committed suicide, leaving a note on Tumblr that, "My death needs to mean something." The note quickly went viral, and has sparked a discussion about how this could be a rallying cry for more transgender equality and activism.
That said, some worry it could be misinterpreted into a belief that suicide can equal results.
In an interview with MTV News, The Trevor Project CEO Abbe Land stressed multiple times that suicide is not the answer, and that no one is ever alone, no matter how alone they might feel. She encouraged anyone who needs help to reach out to The Trevor Project by calling 1-866-488-7386 or visiting their website. This includes parents who want to help their LGBTQ children.
"I think what's really important to know is that there’s a lot of support out there," Land said. "Here at The Trevor Project, we have many trained counselors who can talk to you 24/7. We’re an accredited lifeline; our counselors go through over 40 hours of training. They're aware of all the issues to talk to someone and can give them the resources they need. If someone feels like their family isn’t there for them, their friends aren’t there for them, they can reach out to The Trevor Project. It's sometimes hard to reach out, but it’s one of the best things you can do."
Leelah described feeling alone and cut off, saying this was a result of how her parents had treated her.
"Many times in the area [where a person lives] there might be local options and we can link people to [those] options," Land continued. “I don’t know what Leelah might have tried, but it certainly seemed she felt there was no one who cared. There could have been local resources she didn’t know about. The more a person reaches out to someone who can identify local resources, the more help there is for the next person."
Land added that suicide is not a way to get back at someone. "If you are feeling like you want to get back at your parents, I would say to reach out and talk to other people so you can know that taking your life is not the answer. It doesn't solve [the problem]. We can help you find the best way to handle it so you have your life and can live it and be yourself."
From what Leelah said, it also appears her parents may have put her in what's called "conversion therapy," where a therapist attempts to turn a gay person heterosexual or a transgender person cisgender.
"We know that conversation therapy doesn’t work," Land continued. "Conversion therapy is being banned in state after state. The city of Washington, D.C. just banned it, California banned it, New Jersey banned it. We don’t know everything that went on with the therapy Leelah got, but from Leelah's point-of-view it was not therapy that was helpful to her. As science wins out, people are recognizing that that kind of therapy is not effective therapy; it’s damaging. We are who we are and you can’t change us. You can accept us."
As many people read Leelah’s story and grapple with how to respond, perhaps these words of hers need the most attention: "Fix society. Please."
Fixing society, activists would say, comes through better understanding of LGBTQ issues, better understanding of mental illness, and a push for equality for all people. And to know it’s always okay to reach out and it’s always okay to ask after another person.
"If you have a friend you think is feeling suicidal or very depressed, give them The Trevor Project number to call," Land concluded. "You can say to somebody, 'Are you thinking of taking your own life?' It’s okay to say that and give them a resource. We can all help save somebody."
If you are transgender and thinking about suicide, or know someone who is, please contact The Trevor Project at (866) 488-7386.