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.
Lancaster, Ohio – A Central Ohio man charged with threatening to slice off his disabled brother’s genitals with a butcher knife for being gay, and repeatedly punching him to “beat the gay out of him,” has pleaded guilty to felonious assault and abduction. On Monday, Fairfield County Judge Chris A. Martin sentenced Lawrence L. Featheroff to 30 months in prison and 3 years subsequent probation for bashing, tormenting, threatening, and beating the younger brother he agreed to care for, because of loathing his brother’s “sexual thoughts about men.” Featheroff, 38, had taken charge of his disabled younger brother, Jason A. Meyers, 26 after reports of alleged abuse in a group home for developmentally disabled people. According to The Columbus Dispatch, Meyers is developmentally disabled, but relatively high-functioning.
Featheroff virtually imprisoned Meyers in a house where they lived with an uncle and aunt, and Featheroff’s girlfriend. He admitted to the charges back in January when police, following a tip that abuse might be going on in the house, found Meyers suffering from a concussion, multiple facial bruises including an injured eye socket, and a sprained ankle. The older brother, a convicted ex-con who had served time for domestic violence, said that his motive for the abuse was to intimidate his younger sibling into becoming heterosexual. Gay Star News reports that Detective Brian Lowe testified at the sentencing hearing that Featheroff claimed he “wanted to toughen him up to push the gay out of him and make him a normal person.”
Investigators uncovered a pattern of torture, physical and psychological abuse against the younger man by Featheroff, Featheroff’s girlfriend Jamie R. Smith, and Brent M. Disbennet. The trio routinely punched and kicked Meyers, limited him to one small meal a day, and forced him to run up and down a hill carrying a heavy wooden railroad tie. On at least one occasion, Featheroff held a butcher knife to Meyers’s genitals and swore that he would castrate him if he didn’t stop fantasizing sexually about men. Meyers was removed by officials to a safe location and is now living in adult foster care.
The brothers were part of a family of eight siblings by different fathers who were removed from their mother’s care for reports of neglect or abuse. The remaining siblings have banded together in a family group of their own. One of the other brothers is believed to have tipped off police about the abuse he feared was going on in his brother’s home. At the sentencing hearing, some of the siblings showed up to support Featheroff, and claimed that Meyers could be difficult to live with.
Smith, 40, has pleaded not guilty to complicity to commit felonious assault and abduction. Disbennet, 25, has admitted guilt for felonious assault. Their court dates are pending.
Toledo, Ohio – An ordained gay Baptist minister has called upon churches to change their anti-gay attitudes and language. Dallas Baptist preacher and theologian, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, speaking to a packed house at the University of Toledo last month, said that the notion Christianity and the Bible are considered irreconcilably anti-gay by many in contemporary churches is simply wrong. Citing Dr. Peter Gomes, the late chaplain of Harvard, Sprinkle said that the biblical teachings on hospitality to those who have been deliberately excluded by society, “the poor, the discriminated against, people of color, women, homosexuals, and all persons beyond the conventional definition of Western civilization,” is far more significant than the few misinterpreted Bible texts used to condemn LGBTQ people. Sprinkle went on to note that Christianity arose in the cosmopolitan world of the Greeks and the Romans, who in the main were tolerant of same-gender-loving people for much of the classical age. When taken as a whole, the early churches exhibited very little concern about what we today call “homosexuality.” “Homosexuality,” Sprinkle said, “is not mentioned in the Top Ten [Commandments], and is not in the message of any of the Prophets.”
The Republic reports that Sprinkle was invited to speak at a rally sponsored by Equality Toledo in response to the so-called “billboard wars” over LGBTQ acceptance in the Toledo church community. A progressive United Methodist congregation put up a large billboard on a well-traveled street in April proclaiming that “Gays Are a Gift From God.” An evangelical mega church responded by buying up space on nine huge billboards around the city rebutting the Methodist claim with the slogan “Gays Are NOT a Gift From God.” Sprinkle, a professor at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, and Theologian in Residence at Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ, the largest LGBTQ predominant congregation in the world located in Dallas, is a widely-sought speaker and teacher. His most recent book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications, 2011), is an anthology of stories of people murdered for their sexual orientation and gender identity, most of whom were killed by people who claimed justification from the Bible and church teachings. He is the founder of the Unfinished Lives Project, and the web master of http://unfinishedlivesblog.com, a blog seeking to remember the victims of hate crimes violence in the United States.
McConnelsville, Ohio – Eight quarter horses, one of them a week-old foal, perished in a barn fire on Monday in what a fire marshal is calling arson but neighbors are calling an anti-gay hate crime. Brent Whitehouse, a gay insurance company owner who loved and trained horses, awoke late Sunday night to the roar of fire in his barn where his beloved horses were stabled. He immediately called 911, but it was too late to save them, according to the Zanesville Times Recorder. “I just don’t understand someone wanting to kill innocent animals,” Whitehouse said to Zanesville reporters. “It’s like killing a child. Those horses never did anything to hurt anyone.” He is still in shock about the horrible incident that took the lives of Elvis, Barney, Floyd, Love, Bella, Ethel, and Princess and her month-old foal, Buddy. Love was pregnant, and about to drop her foal, he said. Whitehouse tried to break open the door of the inferno, while he heard kicking and screaming inside the barn. It was impossible to free the horses. The heat was so intense, it melted a tractor inside the structure. Volunteer firemen from the M&M Fire Department in Morgan County responded to the 911 call and fought the flames for two hours before bringing the fire under control. Neighbors told the Times Recorder that they could see the flames licking the sky for miles away from the Whitehouse farm. A spokesman for the fire marshal’s office, Shane Cartmill, said that soon after arriving at the scene, they knew a crime had been committed. Ugly epithets were painted on what was left of the barn, “Burn in Hell,” and “Fags and freaks” could be made out on the smoldering walls still standing. The horses were valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the impact of the crime runs far deeper than economic loss. “The horses cannot be replaced,” Whitehouse said, because of all the love and training that went into each one of them. “Whoever did this had to walk right by all those horses, including the baby,” he went on to say, “and didn’t care that they were killing a gentle, loving animal.” His friends have no doubt this was a hate crime associated with Whitehouse’s sexual orientation. “They obviously don’t know him very well,“ his friend Bobbie Nelson said to The Advocate, “because he’s a sweet-hearted person and how he lives his lifestyle is nobody’s business but his own.” The Human Rights Campaign was alerted to the possibility of a hate crime early, according to Jeremy Penrod, Deputy Field Director. Penrod believes that the Matthew Shepard Act will likely not apply to this crime, because it was a crime against property, and not against someone’s life and limb. HRC is coordinating efforts to support Whitehouse through Stonewall Columbus and Equality Ohio. Citizens of Morgan County are responding with support of their own for a man loved and respected by his friends and neighbors. The investigation of the horrific crime is proceeding, with LGBTQ advocacy groups closely monitoring the responses of fire and police officials. Whitehouse still cries when he remembers the tiny foal, Buddy. As he told the Times Recorder, “He was only a week old. I just had him and his mother in the arena and he was coming up and smelling me and checking me out. He was cute as a button.”