Uninformed religious leaders are guilty of causing Leelah Alcorn’s pain, desperation, rejection, and death

Uninformed religious leaders are guilty of causing Leelah Alcorn’s pain, desperation, rejection, and death
Leelah Alcorn
Leelah Alcorn

Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender teen, stepped in front of truck on an Ohio interstate just after 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, leaving behind two notes that auto-posted to her blog after her death in which she described the root of her despondency.

From the age of four, Leelah had sensed she was a girl trapped in a boy’s body. At 14, she finally identified a name for it — transgender. She shared her “cries of happiness” at this discovery with her mother who “reacted extremely negatively.”

Under the encouragement of their church, Kings Mill Baptist Church in Kings Mill, Ohio, Carla and Doug Alcorn took their transgender child to a Christian therapist — not for depression, but to stem their child’s “gender confusion.”

One need only read the public comments online to sense the outrage from many members of the LGBT community and their supporters.

Doug and Carla Alcorn, parents of three other children, are being severely criticized for rejecting their child’s transgender condition. Their neglect is seen as a major contributory factor of her suicide.


The Alcorns, along with tens of thousands of other parents of LGBT children, though not innocent, are products of a toxic blend of ignorance about human sexuality and gender identity, ideology, and tainted theology prevalent in conservative Christian communities.

When you live in isolated and dogmatic evangelical and Baptists communities, it is likely that your default dogma will mirror such views.

The Alcorns too, are victims of the poisonous and ill-informed teachings from their religious leadership.

I place culpability and thus, guilt, on Christian and conservative leaders who, over the past four decades, have constructed an extreme intensity of cultural and religious discrimination against the LGBT community.

With marriage equality becoming a reality, a new generation of religious zealots has increasingly leveled their intolerance against the transgender community. They have taught the Alcorns what to believe and what to think about their own child.

Leelah Alcorn
Leelah Alcorn

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In October, I attended the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Conference. I sat in the front row and center during Denny Burk‘s presentation entitled “A Gospel-Centered Assessment of Gender Identity, Transgender and Polygamy.”

Burk is positioned as the go-to teacher/speaker/pastor on all-things-trans in the SBC. He is also the co-sponsor of the convention’s resolution on transgender identity.

While I was quiet and respectful, I was steaming on the inside.

The Bible, simply put, instructs us how to be in relationship with God, and then, how to be in relationship with others so that we reflect God accurately. The Bible is not a treatise on human sexuality.

The concept of a person’s gender being incongruent with their biological sex has only gained medical recognition and acceptance within the past 75 years. Looking to the Bible for modern understanding and guidelines on gender is far outside the scope of its intent.

Leaders like Burk, who profess to know and then enforce God’s dictates on sexual orientation and gender identity, are the overreaching culprits teaching parents to reject their own children.

The Alcorns had been encouraged by leaders in their Baptist church to not accept their child’s self-identification as female, but to fix their child.

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It usually takes a critical disruption to one’s thinking, along with courage, education, and a safe landing place to move out of the toxic soup of religious intolerance. Several high profile Christian parents* of LGBT children have learned this tough lesson.

Uninformed religious leaders are the ones who, whether they stand in their pulpits, or teach in Christian universities, or counsel without professionally recognized degrees, or speak from behind microphones online, are guilty of causing Leelah Alcorn’s intense pain, desperation, rejection, and death.

* The Clementi family, the Robertson family and the Wallner family.

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