The beginning of 2015 finds me absolutely furious. I live my life devoted to the fight for social equality. I specialize in religion, and I draw a fair amount of ire from the religious community. At times, I ask myself if I’m risking a little too much. I sometimes wonder if I should back down for a little bit, just enough so I don’t piss people off too badly … and then a 17 year old transgender woman takes her own life because of religious persecution; and her parents attempt to erase all mention of her true identity after her death ( Daily Mail article ). Attempts at Christian counselling, conversion therapy, spiritual therapy, anything at all to deny the identity of one’s own child, have taken yet another life. Negligence, pain, suffering, suicide, involuntary manslaughter, even murder, all caused and carried out by followers of a “loving God.” What a pitiful way to ring in the New Year in an era that boasts acceptance.
On November 24, 2014, I posted a Letter To A Transphobic Dad. I meant every word of it, but I wasn’t harsh enough. These parents aren’t just making bad decisions, and they’re not simply failing their children. They are actively choosing to be bad people. When you bring an innocent life into this world, you have a moral responsibility to love that person you created unconditionally. You do not get to choose your child’s gender, and a good parent will love their child regardless of who they become. To deny that love, to tell a person that they are “selfish and wrong” when they courageously remove the mask and reveal who they are, is nothing short of evil. Leelah was innocent in all of this. The appropriate response from the parent of a person who is trans is to attempt to understand. Go to the library, get some books, talk to your child, find online resources, whatever you have to do. How dare you deny your child parental support just because you don’t understand them, and what cowardice to hide behind “religious belief!”
In any other case, I may be willing to say that I feel sorry for Leelah’s parents. The argument is often made in cases like this that the parents are also victims. Some say that the parents are victims of a doctrine so powerful that it has robbed them of the capacity for compassion and empathy toward their own child. I am hardly in the mood to be so charitable. We all have the freedom to decide how we treat people, and that extends to religious belief as well. If you are so cold-hearted that you are willing to impose the condition of scriptural obedience onto the love you feel for your offspring, I have no pity for you. How could I? You have decided that their life is not important unless it’s the life you want for them. You had a choice and, even with your strong bias, you should have been able to see that the choice you made was the wrong one. You’re not even sorry – you continue to deny who she was after her passing. You have destroyed your daughter. You broke her heart. You abused her. You killed her. And now you spit on her grave.
I am furious. I’m furious at the parents, I’m furious at the Christian counsellors and ministers involved, and I’m furious at the thousands of churches where hate speech is spewed from the pulpit every Sunday. Endorsing conversion therapy, spiritual therapy, and every other tactic that denies identity and steals dignity, is hate.
I’m not sure I’ve gone far enough. We are talking about the willful rejection of one’s own child here. We’re not talking about grieving parents. We’re talking about people who continue, after her death, to treat their daughter in the way that led to her death in the first place. As a matter of fact, they deny having lost a daughter at all, and that’s the problem. We’re talking about people who aren’t worthy of the term “parent.” Furthermore, I am tired of reading pieces where the writer attempts to understand the abuser’s point of view. There’s nothing to understand in this case. Some people read religious scripture a certain way, and decide that adherence to that will determine how they view and treat other people. To them, human dignity really only matters if the person shares their faith (or at least their version of it). If not, you can treat them however you want … even abuse them to the point where they take their own life, apparently. There are, of course, good churches and good Christians, but the hateful brands of religion have declared open season on LGBTQ+ people. Until they are stopped – whether it be through education, reasoning, or shaming – the death toll will continue to rise.
Leelah Alcorn was 17 years old when she went to the highway and stepped in front of a truck; all to escape further degradation at the hands of her parents … let that sink in.