Transgender teen Leelah Alcorn’s suicide sparked the support of trans activists and community members, who gathered at the Justice for Leelah Alcorn Rally and March, organized by students from area colleges in Mount Vernon Square on Saturday.
Seventeen-year-old Alcorn committed suicide by walking into oncoming traffic on an interstate freeway outside of Cincinnati on Dec. 28. She left behind a suicide note on her Tumblr page, calling upon individuals to fix the society that drove her to end her life.
“My death needs to mean something,” Alcorn’s message read.
The rally was organized by approximately 20 activists, including Caolan Eder (COL ’17), who heard about the event from a friend and became involved with the group, which consisted of students from the various universities around D.C. but also included non-student activists.
“We didn’t have to decide that it was something we needed to do. We had already seen the horrible effects of not doing so,” Eder said.
The event drew over 300 participants. After gathering on the steps of Carnegie Library in Mt. Vernon Square, the demonstrators marched to the steps of the Justice Department and read a list of demands, including a federal ban on the provision of conversion therapy to minors and insurance coverage for transitioning, and a formal statement from Alcorn’s church. Along the way, the march paused to construct a memorial in front of the headquarters of the Family Research Council, a conservative group that advocates in favor of conversion therapy.
“Her note was more than just a description of a girl who was driven to feel like life was so helpless that she couldn’t live on. Her suicide note was a plea. It was a call to action, begging us to come out here and to fix society, to make her death mean something. And that’s why we are out here,” American University master’s student Jes Grobman, who helped organize the rally, said in introductory remarks.
Eder was impressed by the rally’s passion but did not expect the government to meet the demands with specific attention.
“It was amazing for me to see all of that support, and people were being so loud and dedicated. There was a lot of energy,” Eder said. “I think it was as much of a success as we could have hoped. I don’t know that we really will get any of our demands because society still doesn’t seem to think that trans people are very important. Eventually, maybe, but I think that we helped.”
GUSA Undersecretary of LGBTQ Affairs Lexi Dever attended the march as well and called for attention to the issue beyond the particular suicide of Alcorn.
“The death of trans people is an epidemic, essentially … which is a result of systematic oppression in society. This is simply another situation, and for some reason, this one suicide has gotten more attention than the other hundreds that happen every year,” Dever said. “We want to show that this is an important issue that people should care about and that we don’t want anymore trans suicides or homicides to happen.”
Other speakers included Reverend Wendy Moen of First Trinity Lutheran Church and Lourdes Ashley Hunter, a transgender woman and the co-founder of the Trans Women of Color Collective.
Hunter drew attention to the 12 transgender women of color murdered in the United States in 2014 and asked the crowd to question the country’s indifference to the rights of gender non-conforming people.
“The same thing that killed Leelah is killing all of us. My liberation depends on your liberation. In 2014, in Ohio, the epicenter of violence against transgender women of color face, we are dying and what are you doing?” Hunter said.
As they discussed issues including parenting a trans child, the speakers drew cries and support from the crowd, often stopping to chant “Not one more” and “It is our duty to fight, it is our duty to win.”
“I think it is really time that our society came together and realize that this is not just an issue for some of us but for all of us and that we need to band together and make sure that this bigotry is eliminated,” rally attendee Heather Benno, an LGBTQ activist and coalition organizer for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, said.
GU Pride Media Manager and Historian Campbell James (SFS ’17) explained that Georgetown students have a role to play in improving the environment for transgender students on campus.
“What we as Georgetown students can do to help counter the high rates of trans suicide is to make sure that we are supportive of our friends, family and fellow students who may identify as trans by making sure we use appropriate language choices and by allowing these individuals to feel comfortable being themselves,” James said.
D.C. Trans Power will organize advocates again in a Community Building Evening at Lamont Street Collective on Friday at 7 p.m. to discuss further ways to achieve transgender justice.
This post has been updated.