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Tragedy of transgender teen

By Emma Jacobs

Monday 12 January 2015 Student Journalists

'My death needs to mean something...' These sentiments are not the words of a black power protester, nor a suffragette. This statement is one of many powerful cries from the heart within Leelah (born Josh) Alcorn’s Tumblr suicide note. NUS Journalist Emma Jacobs examines the lack of support available to transgender students.

Like the last words of many members of persecuted minorities, they act as a wake up call to the dire situation for trans youth today. Unfortunately, Leelah is not the only teen who has had to go through hell and back for appearing as a different gender from the one she identified with.

Leelah faced two major issues; lack of acceptance from her religious Christian family and the inability to fully transition into a woman. Growing up can be hard, even more so if your parents cannot except you for who you are.

In the US, without parental consent, under 18 year olds cannot partake in transitioning treatment - which Leelah was desperate to have. Because of this, many trans teens are left ‘trapped’ in the wrong body if their parents do not support their views. It is the sad reality that too many have faced and the stats show the shared pain. The Trans Mental Health Study of 2012 found 35 per cent had attempted suicide once and 25 per cent a second time. It is even worse amongst trans teens with Pace, a mental health LGBT charity, research finding that 59 per cent of transgender youth having deliberately hurt themselves.

An online petition, which gained nearly 300,000 supporters, called for Obama to pass a law in Leelah’s memory. It pleaded that transgender conversion therapy be banned. At the London vigil, one of many worldwide, campaigner Sarah Brown called for a ban on ‘conversion’ style therapy.

The official medical term is ‘gender dysphoria’ and the NHS describe it as 'distressing and uncomfortable feeling' but, as seen in Leelah’s case, it can have much more serious consequences. So, what is on offer to help transgender young people in the UK?

The first step is seeking assistance. It can be a blizzard inside ones mind with hormones kicking in and if you feel you are living life as the wrong gender, matters must only be worse. I can’t claim to understand the torment that teens who are transgender, and not supported by their friends and family, must feel.

For those under 18, the first post of call in terms of NHS care is referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS). Here, young people can be offered the help they need and the chance to discuss how they feel in a safe environment with someone they know won’t judge them for picking frocks over footballs.

But there’s not enough support available for young transgender people. Yes, there are LGBT support networks and organisations who are attempting to abolish the taboo associated with being transgender but there’s not enough education about it. As with those suffering from mental health, it can be hard to know how to comfort someone and support them as they continue on their gender journey.

Leelah’s last wish was for her money to go to any trans charity and for us to fix society. She fell victim to a lack of support and it’s important that others do not have to go though her traumatic experience. While her Tumblr may now be deleted, her legacy will live on. Now - it’s up to us to make her death mean something.


Hi, I’m Emma. I’m Deputy Editor of Kettle Magazine, a vlogger for Sky’s Stand Up Be Counted and a blogger. I’m currently in sixth form and hope to go on to study at university. I’m very interested in politics and have a tendency to get a bit too into debates in class. I’m also an English geek and love reading, writing and going to poetry recitals at the poetry café in London’s Covent Garden.

I look forward to exploring the theme of community within the student world. It’s where we live and what occupies our thoughts during boring classes and lectures. I know the struggles of balancing sixth form/college, friends and sleep whist living at home. The government isn’t doing enough to help us and so many social issues arise in our lives. NUS offers students a fantastic platform, now it’s time for those in power to listen to us. Let’s hope May 2015 brings change.