Leelah Alcorn's parents have lost a child. By all our social norms, they deserve sympathy. Parents shouldn't outlive their children. Suicide is tragedy.
If you are at all inclined to be the slightest bit in the know about queer politics, or feminist politics, anti-racist politics, class politics, etc. and you're supportive of queer rights, women's rights, rights for people of color, weakening class hierarchies, etc., then you're probably also aware that many of our social norms are utter bull.
Leelah Alcorn's parents drove her to suicide. Their religious beliefs prevented them from seeking real help for their daughter. Instead they pushed Christian counseling at her aimed at "fixing" her so she would be the son they wanted her to be. Leelah Alcorn's parents' religion is no shield for them. It was simply a means to the oppression of their daughter and remains a means of insulating them from the truth they refuse to accept.
Leelah Alcorn's parents say they loved their son "unconditionally." This is, of course, a lie. Loving Leelah unconditionally would have involved accepting Leelah as she was, not trying to "fix" her. Loving Leelah unconditionally would have involved not setting the condition that Leelah accept the role of son. Love is incompatible with denying the nature of what you love. If you cannot accept a gay person as gay, a trans woman as a woman, a trans man as a man, you cannot love them. You do not love them.
Leelah Alcorn's parents, had they been the parents of a cisgender child, would be condemned as monsters by everyone outside the bubble of those who share their religious beliefs. As a trans child, Leelah's death somehow manages to give her parents better coverage. We've come to a place where even religion isn't a foolproof shield against driving a gay child to suicide. With a trans child, the shield is stronger. It's a shield that needs to be destroyed.
Suicide can have a profound effect on loved ones, on those who loved the person who lost their life, and in the case of those whose suicides involve other people, on those who assisted whether they knew or not. We should pity these additional victims.
Leelah Alcorn's parents, however, did not love their daughter. They did not "love her the best way they knew how." They did not acknowledge their daughter. They loved their son, a person who never existed. They inflicted psychic harm upon their daughter. They refuse to acknowledge their daughter's death at all, and they acknowledge the death of their "son" as an accident. It was no accident. It was a suicide. There was no son. There was a daughter. There was no love to Leelah Alcorn from her parents.
If they refuse to acknowledge the death of their daughter, and to acknowledge the death as a suicide, they refuse to acknowledge that they have been affected by their daughter's suicide. What they feel is the effect of the death of an imaginary person. What they feel is the effect of a delusion, a delusion not brought about by mental illness, but by sheer bigotedness.
Jesus says to love thy neighbor. It's one of the things I actually like about Christianity. What I think Jesus forgets to note, however, is that bigots do not belong in the neighborhood. Bigots have no business being neighbors. Bigots do not deserve our sympathy when their bigotry is confronted with reality, especially when they continue to reject reality. Bigots deserve our encouragement when their confrontation with reality results in cracks in the bigotry. This is not what has happened with Leelah Alcorn's parents. Leelah Alcorn's parents have continued to reject reality.
If you are feeling sympathy for Leelah Alcorn's parents, your sympathy is misplaced. It is natural to feel sympathy for the parents of those who commit suicide. Leelah Alcorn's parents live in a reality where they are not the parents of a child who committed suicide. If you're determined to respect them and their grief, then spare them sympathy for what they refuse to believe has happened. Respect them for their delusion of grief for a son lost to a tragic accident; note the passive voice and its attendant denial of responsibility for the suicide that actually occurred; note the misgendering of their daughter and the utter lack of respect for her it shows; and recognize that respecting delusions is silly.
Your sympathies are more productively placed with Leelah's siblings, who are young and must continue to endure living under their parents' roof. They too may be subjected to the same abuse cloaked in the language of love and God, the same attempts at brainwashing. They may have been supportive and loved their sister. We may never know. They deserve our sympathy.
Your sympathies are more productively placed with the truck driver who drove the truck that killed Leelah. He did not ask to do that. He probably wonders what he could have done differently. He probably feels guilty beyond belief. He deserves our sympathy.
Your sympathies are more productively placed with the memory of Leelah and with all young trans people in the world. The suicide rate for young trans people is miles higher than the national average for other groups. Of over six thousand transgender and gender nonconforming respondents to a 2011 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 41% had attempted suicide. That rate is not due to some flaw in trans people and gender nonconforming people. That rate is due to our society, and the lack of empathy we show. Your sympathies should fuel your empathy. Young trans people the world over deserve our empathy.
That's where your sympathies belong. Not with two bigots who drove their child to suicide, refuse to acknowledge the existence of the child who died, the manner of her death, and who feel no shame, guilt, or wrongdoing for their part.
Leelah Alcorn is dead, but alive are others just like her. Millions of other trans teenagers live in similar circumstances. Heaping our sympathy on Leelah's parents tells those other trans teens that their suffering is less important than the feelings of their oppressors and killers. That should be unconscionable.
That is unconscionable.
Edit: I have included a link to a reddit thread started by Leelah asking about her situation. You can find it by looking for the word abuse, or you can click here.
If you are a young trans person in need, the Trans Lifeline is available to help you. Call them at 1-877-565-8860. You can donate to them, in accordance with Leelah's final wishes, here.
There is also the Trevor Project, a crisis and support organization for LGBTIQ teens. They operate hotlines and a website. From their contact webpage:
We're here for you. Please call the Trevor Lifeline (866-488-7386) – it's free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also ask for help on TrevorChat or TrevorText.
Talk to us on the Trevor Lifeline (866-488-7386), over TrevorChat, or through TrevorText – our trained volunteer counselors are ready to listen.
The GLBT National Center takes calls from people struggling with coming out, gender and sexual orientation identity. This hotline is there for trans and other LBBTQAI people. http://www.glbtnationalhelpcenter.org/