The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Transgender teen who died of an apparent suicide: ‘Fix society. Please.’

Leelah Alcorn. (Courtesy of Abigail Jones)

The first time Abby Jones talked to Leelah Alcorn, it was summer, when Alcorn had just taken a new job as a caricaturist at an Ohio amusement park. That day, Jones didn’t notice the sadness. She didn’t see the confusion — or the pain that she would come to recognize in Alcorn’s pale brown eyes. Alcorn was demure, but witty, someone who would surprise with a quiet joke that left you rolling. “She had this light,” Jones told The Washington Post. “She would make these jokes, and say these things quietly that were really funny. Basically, we were soon best friends.”

The last time Abby Jones talked to Leelah Alcorn was on Christmas morning. Jones again didn’t notice anything amiss. By then, she knew of the struggles Alcorn endured. She knew that Alcorn’s given name was Joshua, and that she was transgender. She knew Alcorn’s parents resisted their child’s urge to transition. And she knew all about Leelah’s depression. But as the two talked last week, Alcorn seemed upbeat. Happy, even.

“She was talking about her New Year’s resolutions, and how she was going to try to be more happy and accept people for who they were,” Jones told The Post early Wednesday morning. “It was a really light-hearted conversation. And then on Sunday, when I heard what happened, I was just in shock.”

Her friend, 17, was dead. That morning, around 2:30 a.m., Alcorn walked four miles from her middle-class home in King Mills to the nearby Interstate 71. There, according to local media reports, she was struck by a Freightliner semi truck. The driver has not been charged, and local authorities continue to investigate. But Jones said she knows what happened: Her friend committed suicide.

Support for that conclusion was etched all over Alcorn’s Tumblr page. The transgender teen posted an impassioned “suicide note” on that page that has now attracted worldwide attention, spawning a trending hashtag #LeelahAlcorn. Transgender advocates have seized upon her words as a clarion call for transgender rights. “My dear GIRL, baby SISTER #LeelahAlcorn,” one person wrote. “We will make your voice heard. Rest in power, beautiful.”

The conversation sparked by her death is exactly what Alcorn said she wanted. She spoke of a terrible suffering: caught between two genders, trapped among adults she said couldn’t possibly understand. “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” she wrote in her note, which by early Wednesday morning had attracted tens of thousands of views. “… My death needs to mean something. …  My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say, ‘That’s f—ed up,’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

Alcorn’s parents have not commented on their child’s post. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, they have requested privacy. On Sunday, mother Carla Wood Alcorn mourned her child’s death. “My sweet 17-year-old son, Joshua Ryan Alcorn, went to Heaven this morning,” she wrote in a message she later removed. “He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck. Thank you for the messages and kindness and concern you have sent our way. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.”

Friend Abby Jones criticized that message as an example of what contributed to her friend’s depression. “They used the wrong pronouns,” Jones told The Post. “Her mom is there referring to her as her ‘baby boy Joshua.’ She could not be who she wanted to be because of her home life.”

That observation is reflected in Alcorn’s posts, which were found shortly after her death. The first was called “suicide note.” And the second was titled, “Sorry.” In that letter, she wrote to a number of family and friends, complimenting them and thanking them for their help. In her note to Abby Jones, she lamented “all I did was make your life harder and I’m sorry.”

But she affected a very different tone in her final correspondence with her parents. “Mom and Dad: F–k you. You can’t just control other people like that,” the 17-year-old wrote. “That’s messed up.”

She elaborated in her “suicide note,” where she recalled when she realized she was a “girl trapped in a boy’s body.” She said she spent the next 10 years in a state of confusion. “When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. … My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to Christian therapists (who were all very biased), so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure my depression. I only got more Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.”

Then, finally, Alcorn signed her note. “Goodbye,” she said.

“(Leelah) Josh Alcorn.”