The apparent suicide of an Ohio teen has shone a spotlight on the anguish of transgender teens.
The teen, whose legal name is Joshua Alcorn and who goes by Leelah Alcorn, is believed to have committed suicide Sunday by going in front of a semi-tractor trailer on Interstate 71 in Southwest Ohio.
On a Tumblr page believed to belong to the Leelah Alcorn, the author talks about feelings of isolation and depression once she identified herself as transgender at age 17. According to WCPO in Cincinnati, Alcorn detailed frustration she felt because her parents did not believe or accept her. Her parents, who acknowledge the death of their son Joshua, have asked for privacy.
Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach called Leelah’s death a call to action.
“It has come to light that this person likely committed suicide because she was transgender. While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years … the truth is … it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country,” Seelbach said. “We have to do better.”
The Kitsap Sun recently wrote about local schools approving policies acknowledging the needs and challenges faced by transgender students. One article cited a national study showing 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide. The national average is 1.6 percent.
After the first article ran, some commented that identifying transgender students as a protected group was overkill. What about other students who may be made uncomfortable by sharing a locker room with a transgender student? one person asked. Aiden Key, an advocate for transgender people who consults with school districts, said each situation is unique and solutions can be found that meet the needs of everyone involved in a respectful way. For example, different schedules for locker room use.
One person on Facebook accused us of liberal bias for reporting on this issue. The fact is districts are bound by federal and state civil rights mandates; they’re responding accordingly and we’re reporting on it.
Key and others who work “in the trenches” as districts grapple with this unfamiliar territory, say staff members sometimes struggle to understand what it means to be transgender and how they should respond, but eventually they get it, and it’s no big deal. Anecdotally, we heard that most young people already get it (or they don’t quite get it but they accept their fellow students who are transgender regardless without much fuss, and life goes on).
That may be a gross simplification, and surely at some schools in some classes, transgender students are still the target of bullying or harassment. Schools already have policies to address harassment in general. Now, in North Mason and North Kitsap, there’s an extra layer of protection (at least on paper) afforded to transgender students.
I welcome hearing from anyone who has thoughts or opinions on this subject. Thanks in advance.
Chris Henry, Kitsap Sun Education reporter