Did Leelah Alcorn lead to national change?

Posted at 12:53 PM, May 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-13 13:07:59-04

CINCINNATI -- As tragic as her death was, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn's decision to walk into the path of an oncoming semi in the early morning hours of Dec. 28, 2014, may have focused a local and national spotlight on transgender issues.

The latest national advancement in support of transgender issues came Friday with Pres. Barack Obama's administration directing all public schools to treat their transgender students in a way that matches their gender identity, even if their educational records or identity documents indicate a different sex.

The guidance comes days after the Justice Department sued North Carolina over a new state law that says transgender people must use public bathrooms, showers and changing rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate. The administration has said the law violates the Civil Rights Act.

Alcorn, formerly known as Joshua, allegedly left a blog post behind describing the isolation and depression she felt once she identified herself as transgender at the age of 14. She detailed frustration because she did not believe her parents supported who she was.

The teen expressed strong dismay when they would not sign off on medical procedures to transition physically into a woman starting at the age of 16.

She also wrote in the blog entry that her parents did not provide the type of therapy she needed and that she began acting out in school. Ultimately, according to the blog post, Leelah's parents pulled her from Kings Local Schools.


Following intense news coverage and social media interest in Alcorn's suicide, a Golden Globe winner dedicated the award to Leelah on national television at the awards ceremony in January 2015.

"It was the right time and place for Leelah's story," Jill Soloway, creator of the TV series "Transparent" - about a father who comes out as a transgender woman - told The Associated Press. "There are so many people like Leelah. There are so many stories."

In that same month, Obama became the first U.S. president to utter the word "transgender" at the State of the Union Address, for the first time validating transgender Americans as worthy of equal rights at a high-profile state event. 

Obama then pushed further April 8, 2015, calling for an end to conversion therapy in response to an online petition posted on the White House website supporting "Leelah's Law," a national ban on conversion therapy - the controversial treatment that proponents believe can turn gay people straight.

"While a national ban would require congressional action, we are hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the actions taken by these states will lead to broader action that this administration would support," Obama's statement read.

On the local level, Cincinnati became the first city in the nation to ban conversion therapy Dec. 8, 2015, a move that seeks to prevent other teens from having the same experience Leelah did before she took her own life. Now, the city will fine anyone who performs the therapy within city limits at $200 per day.


City Councilman Chris Seelbach referenced Alcorn in discussions of the ban, which he called the “most personally important piece of legislation” he’s ever drafted and proposed. He told WCPO he was personally subjected to those therapy efforts 20 years ago.

“Your whole world is turned upside down,” Seelbach said of the impact of conversion therapy.

Local transgender rights advocates gathered for the one-year anniversary of Alcorn's death at the Woodward Theater Dec. 28, 2015, to honor her memory and renew their push for equal rights in emergency housing, access to medical care, drug and alcohol treatment and job training.

"Most of all, what we are experiencing now is a willingness of the citizens of the City of Cincinnati to look at us as human beings," Lindsey Deaton said at the event.

The trans clinic at Cincinnati Children's Hospital told WCPO in December 2015 that clinic numbers have almost tripled since Leelah's death. They have added services and a monthly support group 90 people strong.