Leelah, who was born male, was struck by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 71 in Ohio. Days later, a suicide note appeared on Leelah's Tumblr, which explained her desire to transition, the lack of support, and her desperation because of the situation, which led to her decision to commit suicide.
There has been a lot of discussion about this story already. It may be easy to place blame on Leelah's parents for their lack of support, particularly when it led to such a tragic end. And while I most certainly don't condone that kind of lack of support, neither can I judge them for doing what they thought was best at the time. That's what I do as a parent.
Besides, there is a bigger issue at work here (well, two issues that I want to discuss) than whether or not Leelah's parents should have behaved differently.
The first and most important thing is that we have to do better. There are teens and adults all over this country that die because of who they are. Some take their own lives, like Leelah, because of how others react to them. Others, like Matthew Shephard, are killed because of other people's perceptions of who they are.
There are people dying every day because of small-minded, judgmental people who won't see past their own opinions to offer the support that's needed in these situations.
And we have to do better. We can't let society continue to kill people for being who they are. For wanting to live authentically.
The other issue I want to discuss is the media coverage of Leelah's death.
I am so glad that Leelah's story is being told, and that it's starting and continuing important conversations about what it means to be queer* in today's society. But how many other teenagers and adults have similar stories that haven't been told? How many families bury their trans children using their birth gender and name instead of how they identified? How many families turn their backs when people come out, leaving family members homeless and alone? How many people just like Leelah have no voice in our society?
We have to do better.
With Puck and Tink, I frequently remind them that I just want them to be happy, and to be the people they are on the inside as well as on the outside. I want them to be comfortable in how they identify, and will always do whatever I can to help them live authentically every day.
Because, as a society, we have to do better. As individuals, we have to do better. As parents and siblings and children and friends, we have to do better.
And it has to start right this minute before we lose another precious life.
*I have chosen to use the word queer in this post as an inclusive term in regards to the LGBTQ community.