Commentary

A gay dad’s requiem for Leelah Alcorn, the Matthew Shepard of our time

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She told CNN that the transgender challenge was in a single conversation and it was not until after her child had died that she had even heard the name “Leelah.” 

“We don’t support that, religiously. But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy,” she said.

Leelah Alcorn
Leelah Alcorn

Leelah’s father, Doug Alcorn wrote, “We love our son, Joshua, very much and are devastated by his death. We have no desire to enter into a political storm or debate with people who did not know him. We wish to grieve in private. We harbor no ill will towards anyone. … I simply do not wish our words to be used against us.”

Doug and Carla Alcorn plan to say goodbye to someone named Joshua. The rest of the world is mourning a vibrant young woman named Leelah.

For me, as a gay dad, I have complex feelings around this horror. Front of mind for me is that Leelah’s death, in all its devastation, not be held as an event to be emulated by other transgender teens in similar situations. We must collectively strive to shut down the bloodshed on all fronts.

Second, I have written to, and about, worse parents. There are parents who have wished their children dead, violently attacked and killed them. The Alcorns are not one of those. As a dad, I cannot fathom the pain they must feel.

I do not know how I could possibly survive the death of one of my children. It is a strength I don’t believe I possess.

The philosophy that Doug and Carla Alcorn labored under is culpable, however. As my sons have approached their adolescence, guesswork on where their inner compasses are leading them has commenced. I strive to be there to support their emotional health as they find themselves through hormonal and social growth.

I cannot imagine ignoring a deep-seated plea on their part due to my own allegiance to some set of dogmatic rules. Carla Alcorn did that, and still appears to be doing so.

A wave of concern has emerged over how Leelah will be buried, and what name and the gender will be used. Her family seems to be avoiding a memorial all together to avoid the inevitable protests of their actions.

From my perspective, the death of Leelah is bigger than a funeral.

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Her death is bigger than failed parenting.

It is the result of both a religion-based culture that ignores science and a largely apathetic public on the issue of transgender dignity. She is the mark in the sand of our collective societal consciousness.

Her death asks the question on human rights — at what point have we reached the breaking point in tolerating transphobic behavior that ruins young lives. Matthew Shepard’s death asked the same question about thousands of hate crimes that had preceded him.

The religious right has framed the conversation as one of “Religious Freedom.” Fear of infringing against their rhetoric, basic human rights violations have been quieted.

We have reached the point where we have to ask whether some supposed adherence to these “religious freedoms” that allow for abuse needs to be compromised in order to achieve common human rights and respect for all.

Here is my requiem for Leelah

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