Vigils Held In Honor Of Leelah Alcorn Brought The Transgender Community Together In A Powerful Way

The teen's death was honored by the biggest transgender gathering in Cincinnati history, as well as vigils in New York and D.C.

CINCINNATI -- Two weeks after 17-year-old transgender woman Leelah Alcorn took her life and left behind a suicide note pleading for the rest of us to "fix society," more than 500 friends, supporters and fellow transgender youth and adults gathered in her hometown on Saturday night (January 10). The community got together to honor her memory, but also to step out of the shadows and to be heard, seen, remind each other that they are not alone and that they are loved.

The event, which was moved to the city's 600-capacity Woodward Theater rock club due to increased demand, was organized in part by local trans activist Lindsey Deaton, who said that the memorial was the first time Cincinnati's trans community came together in a public way to raise their voices.

"The eyes of the world are on us and we need to stand on her shoulders and do something," Deaton told MTV News. "Cincinnati is just a reflection of every other place in this country... she fell through the cracks in our fingers and we don't want it to happen again."

Singing for a crowd bearing name tags that included attendees names and their preferred pronoun (he, she, they), the DiverseCity Youth Chorus opened the event singing the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris," with a strong focus on the refrain "I just want you to know who I am."

MTV News/Gil Kaufman

Then, one by one, a wide array of Cincinnati's transgender community stood up and announced themselves to the crowd's applause and love. "Hi, my name is," each said... "And I'm a real life trans... person... child... teen... adult... veteran."

MTV News/Gil Kaufman

By the end, the club's stage was packed with more than two dozen community members standing shoulder-to-shoulder. There was also an opportunity for trans kids (some as young as 12 and 14) to share their experiences, including a story of learning what the word transgender means by stumbling across a video on Youtube.

Some spoke of finding acceptance from their parents, others of being shunned and shamed and searching for community outside their biological family. One 15-year-old, who is not out at her school, drew laughs when she described realizing very early on what she wanted. "I want a vagina," she recalled telling her mom at age 11. "Then we looked it up and there was a vagina on the screen and I said,'That's what I want!'"

Near the end of the ceremony, the young transgender youth stood in the center of the crowd and received a huge group hug as their peers read statements of support before the Chorus ended the night with a moving cover of David Bowie's "Heroes," which features the chorus "we can be heroes, just for one day."

MTV News asked attendees, "Why did you come tonight?"

MTV News/Gil Kaufman

Sammy Matson, 26, "To support my chosen family."

MTV News/Gil Kaufman

Eve Kennedy, 15, "To support her memory."

MTV News/Gil Kaufman

Elsa Kennedy, 20 (left), "I've seen the way music can connect people... I'm a lover of love and this is a place to share and connect through music."

Sebrina Williams, 15 (right), "Nobody paid attention to her when she was alive. This is the love she should have felt in life."

MTV News/Gil Kaufman

Stephanie Laumann, 24, "I am here to support all trans people."

MTV News/Gil Kaufman

Christian Jackson, 22, "I didn't know Leelah, but she's still my sister. I had to be here to support my sister."

MTV News/Gil Kaufman

Kaeden Kass, 22, "I'm here because I'm trans and because things like this show queer youth that there are people who love and accept them for who they are."

Vigils were also held in New York and Washington D.C. on Saturday night.

Flickr/Otto Yamamoto
Flickr/Otto Yamamoto
Flickr/Otto Yamamoto

If you’re struggling with issues of identity, head to Half of Us.

To learn more about being transgender, check out GLAAD and Look Different.

If you are transgender and thinking about suicide, or know someone who is, please contact the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.