Reports on the teen's death call her Joshua Alcorn, the name and gender she was assigned at birth. But Leelah's blog paints the picture of a heartbroken girl trapped in a society unwilling to recognize her for who she is.
"To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy's body, and I've felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally 'boyish' things to try to fit in.
"When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and 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."
Leelah's post detailed years of Christian counseling and being told that she was selfish and depressed. She came out as gay at school as a means of trying to transition into her parents accepting her as transgender. She said that as a result, her parents isolated her from her friends by taking her out of school and restricting access to social media and phone use.
Openly gay Cincinnati city councilman Chris Seelbach — who helped pioneer transgender-inclusive health benefits — shared the news of Leelah's death on Facebook, saying, "It is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country. We have to do better."
As bystanders, we will never know the intricacies of Leelah's relationship with her family. However, we can honor her final wishes by recognizing her as transgender and recognizing that transgender teens need help. Transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals are clearly at risk, with some studies showing that over 40 percent have attempted suicide at some point during their lives. A transgender teen's support system can and should start at home — in a blanket of love and acceptance.
Leelah had one last request for her friends, and for the world:
"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. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year."
It's a tall order that makes this senseless death even more tragic. The world won't change overnight, but as individuals we can speak up. We can promote transgender acceptance. We accept that our children may not be who we thought they were, but that they deserve our support all the same.
If you suspect someone might be considering suicide, or you have struggled with those thoughts yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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