Union Township, Ohio – A transgender teen girl chose to walk into the path of Interstate Highway traffic rather than face discrimination and harsh treatment for her gender expression. Cincinnati.com reports that Leelah Alcorn, 17, was struck and killed by an oncoming tractor-trailer truck at approximately 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, December 28, after leaving an extensive suicide note on her Tumblr account social media page. The driver of the truck, Abdullahi Ahmed, 39, was unhurt in the tragic incident that took place near the South Lebanon exit on I-71 because of his fastened seatbelt. Ms. Alcorn’s body was transported from the scene by the Warren County Coroner’s Office. Ohio Highway Patrol Officers are investigating what led Ms. Alcorn apparently to take her own life.
Ms. Alcorn whose account of rejection, alienation for her parents and school mates highlights the plight of transgender teens around the nation, left two notes on her blog, according to openly gay Cincinnati City Council man, Chris Seelbach : a suicide note, which may be read in its entirety on Councilman Seelbach’s Facebook Page here, and an apology note to the few friends Ms. Alcorn felt she still had at the time of her decision to take her own life. Ms. Alcorn, an M to F transgender youth whose chosen screen avatar was lazerprincess wrote that she had felt herself trapped in a male body since the age of four. In her suicide note which begins, “If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender,” Leelah writes that her parents’ response to her discovery of her transgender identity contributed to a self-hatred that dogged her from age 14 until her death three years later. Her mother mandated that Leelah see conservative “Christian” therapists who only contributed to the burden of anger and depression.
The crisis apparently took place at the time of Leelah’s 16th birthday. She writes: “When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.” In response to the inflexibility of her parents, Leelah came out as gay at school, believing that doing so would soften the effect of living into her true transgender persona. Her strict Christian parents responded by taking her out of public school, depriving her of any means of communicating with the outside world such as her cell phone and her laptop, and put her into virtual isolation for five months. “No friends, no support, no love,” Leelah wrote. “Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”
When she was finally allowed by her parents to communicate with others and see her one-time friends, Leelah relates that her excitement turned to deeper agony upon finding out that her classmates were little better than acquaintances who cared little for her true self. After a summer of depression, fearing the unknowns of college, grades, enforced attendance at a church where “everyone . . . is against everything I live for,” and what she believed to be the unreachability of transitioning, Leelah gave up hoping anything could get any better for her. “Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself, “ she wrote. “There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.”
“That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself,” she wrote in an exhausted, heartbreaking coda to her final testament, struggling to explain who she really was by striking out her male birth name in her parting salutation. “Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. 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. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
Councilman Seelbach prefaced Leelah’s note with an appeal to his Facebook Friends to contribute what they could spare to TransOhio, so that in some measure, Leelah’s last wish that trans civil rights could somehow be advanced thanks to her having lived. Seelbach, the first openly gay Council Member to be elected in Cincinnati, writes: “While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years….the truth is….it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country.
“We have to do better.”
We at the Unfinished Lives Project could not agree more with Councilman Seelbach. Transgender youth in America, especially M to F persons, face unimaginable hurdles in the quest to become who they truly are. Seldom are we invited into the long, punishing agony trans teens endure. Leelah Alcorn died because her parents, her school, her society, and the religious underpinnings of the social and moral system of this country are hostile to non-normative gender identity and variant gender expression. Though she was 17 when she stepped into the path of a hurtling semi truck, she was still a child: vulnerable, confused, and above all, wounded. She took her own life. But she cannot be held responsible for the act that took her life. That indictment falls on a culture and heterosexist system in which we all play a part. LGBTQ and Straight alike. Councilman Seelbach declares what we must all resolve to do. Better. So much better, for the multitudes of youth like Leelah Alcorn who deserve a fair chance at the pursuit of happiness in a land that professes to stand for justice. “We have to do better.” Yes. It’s a matter of life and death that we do. (Thanks to Carmen Saenz, Waco, TX activist, for drawing our attention to this story.)
Rest peacefully, lazerprincess, dear sister.
For any Transgender Young Person struggling with life, and in need of a friendly, non-judgmental voice of help and encouragement, we recommend the Trevor Lifeline, a 24/7 phone service where a real person will answer your call, listen sincerely, and offer real assistance. Free call, 1-866-488-7386. Call. Text. Now.
Sacramento, California – The Golden State has outlawed the notorious “gay panic defense” as an excuse for violence against the sexual minority. Defendants in California can no longer claim their deeds of physical harm against gay and transgender victims were triggered by alarm at a person’s sexual orientation or gender expression. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law on September 27.
As Gay Star News reports, Rick Zbur, Equality California Executive Director, said in a statement to the press on Sunday, “The ‘panic defense’ is a homophobic and transphobic ploy that blames the victims of horrific acts of violence for the crimes committed against them.” Zbur went on to commend Governor Brown for signing the bill making this infamous legal dodge based on fear illegal: “[Such a ploy] has no place in California’s legal system, and we applaud Gov. Brown for signing this groundbreaking, first-in-the-nation legislation.”
The law, according to California Legislative Information, entitled “AB-2501 Voluntary manslaughter,” now bans the excuse from use in California courts that “the victim made an unwanted non-forcible romantic or sexual advance towards the defendant” or “the defendant and victim dated or had a romantic or sexual relationship.”
Some defendants in horrendous cases of physical violence against transgender or gay/lesbian victims succeeded in playing upon the fears and latent biases of juries with the gay panic defense, and winning lesser sentences and penalties from the courts as a result. The most widely covered California case in which the gay panic defense was effective in reducing a sentence was the execution-style gunshot murder of teen ager Larry Fobes King of Oxnard by his teen age classmate, Brandon McInerney. In the 2011 trial, defense attorneys argued that the real offender was the murdered King, who allegedly flirted with McInerney, a youth who had been deeply influenced by Neo-Nazi ideologies and prejudices. The court reduced McInerney’s charges to second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter after trying him as a juvenile, in contravention of California law that clearly mandated McInterney, though a teen, must be tried as an adult because of the heinous nature of the crime, and the premeditation exhibited in King’s execution in their morning computer classroom. King was, of course, unable to defend himself against the charges and allegations made by defense attorneys, since he was dead and buried. Because of a plea bargain deal, McInerney received a 21-year sentence instead of a longer, more appropriate term, solely because of the gay panic defense.
Reflecting on the King/McInerney case, SF Weekly carried an op-ed article arguing that “It’s a heinous defense tactic that banks on a judge or jury’s own homophobia, apportioning some blame onto victims in order to get a murder charge downgraded to manslaughter. Leaning on a ‘heat of passion’ line of thinking deliberately turns a trial into something out of a pulp novel. Gay panic benefits from anti-LGBT bias, and adds to it as well, by dredging up ancient stereotypes of gays as sexual predators who can’t be trusted not to curb their appetites.”
Now, such legal queer-baiting is out of bounds in California and has become a model for other states to emulate.
Ventura County, California – The teen killer of a gay classmate has pleaded guilty second-degree murder. Brandon McInerney, 17, 14-years-old at the time he pulled the trigger, shot gay 15-year-old Larry King in the back of the head execution-style at E.O Green Middle School in Oxnard, California in February 2008 before the eyes of his first-period classmates. The facts of the case are undisputed. Rising behind his victim, McInerney pumped two rounds into the back of Larry King’s skull, fulfilling a threat he made to a girlfriend at school the day before. McInerney will receive a 21-year sentence for a crime that many say bears all the hallmarks of a pre-meditated, first-degree hate crime murder.
In September of this year, a mistrial was declared after two months of testimony, due to the inability of the jury to come to a decision about the guilt of young McInerney. Prosecutors had argued for first-degree murder, based on the established pre-meditation and the heinous nature of the crime. Under California law, a 14-year-old may be tried as an adult, and McInerney, who confessed to the murder seemed to fit the statute’s requirements. Prosecutors claimed that because of McInerney’s antipathy toward King’s sexual orientation and gender expression, and because of white supremacist loyalties the killer clearly embraced, the murder was a clear-cut case of anti-LGBT hate crime. Defense turned the tables on the prosecution, putting the dead victim on trial instead of their client. They resurrected the infamous “gay panic/trans panic” defense, drumming their contention into the jurors’ minds that King was the prime aggressor, pressing his flamboyant sexuality toward McInerney until he “snapped.” Enough of the jury bought the ploy that the jury hung. Had the first-degree charge been upheld, the defendant would have received 53 years for his crime.
The Advocate reports that formal sentencing will take place for McInerney on December 19. Twenty-one years in prison is a long time for McInerney to consider that every day he lives is another he stole from a gay classmate because of his discomfort with a person who was different. For the LGBTQ community, the specter of the “gay panic defense,” like a hungry ghost, lingers on, given new energy by this plea deal.
Chatsworth, Los Angeles, California – Larry King’s alleged killer was influenced by white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideals to shoot his gay classmate to death, according to the testimony of an expert witness. Beginning on Wednesday, July 20, the Prosecutor Maeve Fox introduced evidence that Brandon McInerney held violent, ingrained white supremacist biases against gay people. Drawings of swastikas and other white supremacist symbols and illustrations that McInerney possessed in his home and in his prison cell were presented to the court. On Friday, Simi Valley Police Detective Dan Swanson, an expert on white supremacy, testified to the court that McInerney’s embrace of white supremacist tenets was the primary reason he hated 15-year-old Larry King enough to kill him. White supremacists hold deep animosity for gays and lesbians, often resorting to physical violence against them, Swanson said. He further told the court that McInerney was a violent member of a supremacist street gang, according to the Washington Post. McInerney’s defense team sought to discredit the prosecution’s bias case by presenting schoolmate and prison officer witnesses who testified that McInerney was not a white supremacist. The Ventura County Star reported that McInerney’s direct supervisor at juvenile hall, Chris Niblett, testified that McInerney was a “good kid” who sometimes got in fights with others, but on the whole showed no particular tendency for violence, and no evidence of gang membership. Niblett went on to say that McInerney was allowed to use a PlayStation as an award for good behavior. Three juvenile hall videos of fights involving McInerney with other inmates were shown to the jury on Friday. The prosecution said that they demonstrated, in contradiction to defense image of their client, that McInerney was prone to violence.
McInerney is charged with the execution-style murder of Lawrence Fobes “Larry” King in his middle school classroom in February 2008. He is being charged and tried as an adult, though at the time of the fatal shooting, McInerney was 14 years old. Prosecuting Attorney Fox told the media that she would wrap up her case against McInerney perhaps as early as Wednesday of nest week.