On December 28th Leelah (Josh) Alcorn committed suicide. In the Tumblr note she scheduled to upload after her death, Leelah implies that her parents’ strict rejection of her identity was one of the factor that led her to this decision.
I’m not a parent, so I don’t want to ignorantly hand out parenting suggestions. However, I do want to start a dialogue about this story in the Christian community.
Instead of offering my own naive words of advice, I’ve pulled out three quotes from Leelah’s note to focus on. Each of these three points highlight things Leelah seemed to deeply wish that her Christian parents would understand.
1. You can’t force your child to accept your beliefs
I love what Jamie (the very worst missionary) once said on this topic. In her post titled “Not All Pastor’s Kids Are Christian. Sorry.” she talks about her own experience as a pastors wife, parenting a child who now identifies as an atheist. While Jamie expects their children to act respectful towards her and her husband (and their chosen profession), when it comes to their faith she only asks her children to be honest with her in their journey towards truth. She doesn’t ask them to pretend to be something they are not:
“Believing in Jesus? Receiving His redemption? These are not commands to be given by a father and obeyed by a child. They are a loving invitation from God to his people, every last one of His people, and He is patiently awaiting their reply…”
2. “Corrective” Therapies don’t work
“My mom started taking me to a therapist but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.”
The more research I did on Leelah’s story, the more terrible stories I came across written by people who had survived their own “treatment”. Websites like Beyond Ex-Gay and Truth Wins Out have pages dedicated to sharing the stories of treatment survivors. I’ve also included a video of one survivor story below because I feel like it sums up the kind of spiritual and emotional trauma many survivors experienced.
3. Isolating your Child Can be Dangerous
“So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”
I’ve often been told that when a child becomes a teenager their friends become more influential than their parents. I can see how that might be terrifying as a parent. But really, we were all teenagers once, so we shouldn’t need studies to tell us how vital friendships are to adolescent development and mental health.
Just in case some of us have forgotten, I’ve included a quote from The Public Health Agency of Canada’s summary of several studies on the topic of adolescents and friendship below:
Leelah’s parents didn’t just isolate her from her friends at school, they also took away her computer and phone, and “forbid” her from using social media.
I’m not going to pretend the internet isn’t a terrifying place. There is a whole other level of grossness available on the internet that I wouldn’t want my kid to have access to either. But it’s also a vital tool in most of our lives that isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. As frightening as the virtual world can be, it can also provide support and community for kids when they aren’t able to find it anywhere else. For example, Transexual adults were quick to reach out to Trans teens using the #RealLifeTransAdult in the wake of Leelah’s death.
As someone who strives to support the LGBT loved ones I have in my life, I have my own biases on this topic. As I mentioned above, I’m also not a parent, so I can’t even pretend to be qualified to give actual parenting advice. I am a Christian, however, and someday, I hope to be a parent. So what I said above about starting a dialogue, I really mean that. The Christian community can’t afford to quietly ignore these issues while we lose kids like Leelah.
If you are a parent, particularly a Christian parent, I would love to hear back from you on this topic. How would you respond if your child told you the kind of things Leelah wrote about in her final letter?