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Transgender teen's suicide blog gains national attention

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Posted at 5:13 AM, Dec 31, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-31 09:55:28-05

A blog posted to a Tumblr page believed to belong to Leelah Alcorn has sparked a nationwide conversation.

The transgender teenager, whose legal name is Joshua Alcorn, is believed to have committed suicide Sunday by going in front of a semi-tractor trailer on Interstate 71 in Southwest Ohio. Police have not yet released an official cause of death, and are in contact with the teen's parents about the blog post, which appears to be a suicide note.

On Monday, the suicide note allegedly penned by Leelah appeared on the blog. The note spread on Twitter, and on the Facebook page of Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach, who made this plea:

"It has come to light that this person likely committed suicide because she was transgender. While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years ... the truth is ... it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country.

"We have to do better," Seelbach said.

According to WCPO in Cincinnati, the teenager wrote about experiencing isolation and depression once she identified herself as transgender at the age of 17. She detailed frustration because she did not believe her parents supported who she was.

The teen expressed strong dismay when the parents would not sign off on medical procedures to transition physically into a woman starting at the age of 16, according to WCPO’s report.

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.

Kings Local District Schools confirmed Joshua enrolled in the Ohio Virtual Academy for the 11th grade.

Leelah’s mother, Carla Alcorn, acknowledged the death Sunday afternoon through a post on Facebook.

“My sweet 16-year-old son, Joshua Ryan Alcorn went home to heaven this morning. He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck. Thank you for the messages and kindness and concern you have sent our way. Please continue to keep us in your prayers,” Carla Alcorn wrote.

Chris Davis, a childhood friend, said he witnessed Leelah's struggles lessen, then intensify after a Facebook message posted a year ago where Alcorn admitted he was attracted to boys.

“One day he finally posted on Facebook, ‘Hey, I’m coming out. This is me. This is who I am,'" Davis said. "Everybody was like, yeah man this is great. He came to school and everyone gave him massive support.”

The 18-year-old said Alcorn told him her parents did not approve of the announcement. Davis also said Alcorn never appeared comfortable enough to discuss her transgender feelings with him.

“Occasionally he’d tell me, ‘Oh, I feel like I’m something else or I’m someone else,’ and wouldn’t go too far with it," he said. "I feel like it was something that was really personal to him that maybe he didn’t tell anybody about because he was nervous about it.”

Another friend described a feeling of "numbness" when he thought of Alcorn's death.

“I think he said what he needed to say in his note, how he really felt,” Jimmy Bustetter said.

With some help from Seelbach’s Facebook post that was shared thousands of times in 24 hours, Leelah's note gained national attention.

Parents Carla and Doug Alcorn have asked for privacy in light of their child’s death.

The Ohio Highway State Patrol investigation is ongoing. 

After hearing about Alcorn’s death, the school district placed counselors on call for anyone needing to speak about the loss. Counselors also will be available for students when they return from winter break on Monday.

Kings High School planned to have a moment of silence for Alcorn before a basketball game at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

In a phone conversation with WCPO, Seelbach said he hopes Leelah's story sends a message that transgender teens need acceptance and that for those teens who feel isolated support is out there.

Leelah herself expressed hope that her death would bring about change for transgenders.

"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."