When transgender teen Leelah Alcorn committed suicide by walking into traffic on Sunday, her death – and suicide note – sparked a nationwide debate about how families should react when a child comes out as transgender.
“I immediately told my mom,” Leelah wrote about coming out in an emotional suicide note posted on her Tumblr account. “She reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong.”
When the note went public, the reaction was swift – and heated. Leelah’s name began trending on Twitter, with some activists, including noted sex columnist Dan Savage, calling for the Alcorns to be prosecuted for child abuse.
But Alcorn’s mother, Carla, insists that she only wanted what was best for her child. During an interview with CNN on Wednesday, she explained her point of view. “We don’t support that, religiously,” Carla Alcorn said. “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 her child was depressed and on medication and that, “he just quit talking about [being transgender.]
The next day, the teen’s father, Doug, wrote an email to local news station WCPO. “We love our son, Joshua, very much and are devastated by his death.”
Many have criticized the Alcorns for referring to Leelah by her given name, Joshua, and for using male pronouns when discussing their child. “It’s so damaging to do that,” says Johanna Olson, Medical Director for the Center of Trans Youth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “It’s so tragic. Just the process of listening and being open to your child will save your life. I ask parents if they’d rather have an alive daughter or a dead son. It’s tragic to hear of such a lack of parental support.”
“Did Leelah’s parents love her? Yes, I’m sure they did,” says Olson. “Did they support her? No, they didn’t. And that’s a tragedy.”
Beyond the debate, the Alcorns, who have other children, say that they are still reeling over their child’s suicide – but don’t wish to become part of a national controversy. “We have no desire to enter a political storm or debate with people who did not know him,” Doug Alcorn wrote in his note to WCPO. “We wish to grieve in private.”