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Leelah Alcorn's impact continues 7 years after her death

Leelah Alcorn
Posted at 12:06 AM, Dec 31, 2021

CINCINNATI — Seven years ago this week, the death of a 14-year-old transgender teen made headlines.

Before her death, Leelah Alcorn published her suicide note to an online blog. The note detailed her struggle with gender identity and how she felt the trans community was treated by society. Her story sent shockwaves throughout the country.

“I think Leelah’s legacy is about trying to make the world safer for trans youth,” said Ella Dastillung, a cofounder of the nonprofit Transform, an organization that helps trans youth look the way they feel inside.

Alcorn’s short life sparked national conversations about acceptance and understanding the struggles trans youth face each day.

“The internet was such a space for young queer people to kind of find each other and kind of find solace,” Dastillung said. “Especially where she left her suicide note on Tumblr, I think began such a reckoning of really seeing how visible that is.”

Tristan Vaught, Transform cofounder and equity, inclusion and belonging educator, said there were few resources to help trans youth who were feeling isolated in 2014. Now, though, Vaught says things are changing. Their organization opened as a safe space for trans youth and their families in 2019.

“As they're transitioning, they get 15 to 20 outfits, shoes, accessories, a free haircut, and it's by appointment only," Vaught said. "So it's just them and their support system. They get an entire rack of clothes to go through.”

Vaught said Transform does more than just share donated clothes carefully curated for each client — it's a space where trans youth can feel at home.

“Suicide rates are about 60%,” Vaught said. “If we had 10 trans youth in here, think about what that looks like at 60%. Just having one accepting adult for an LGBTQ-plus individual can reduce that suicide rate in half.”

Each week Vaught and Dastillung see anywhere between three and 10 people looking for help in their transition journey. They help their families find acceptance as well.

“This is reaching those kids at every level,” said Vaught. “A medical transition is only a tiny part of what these kids go through or anyone who's trans goes through, but the social transition is a bigger piece of that, so that's what we do.”

Alcorn herself expressed hope that her death would bring about change for transgender people.

"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. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something," she wrote in her note.

Nationally, organizations such as Trans Lifeline offer support to transgender people seeking help. Their crisis hotline is 1-877-565-8860. Locally, Crossport offers support to those in the transgender community 18 and older. Staff there can be reached by calling 513-344-0116.

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