In Warren County, Ohio, a stretch of Interstate 71 has been adopted for Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teen who took her own life on the Ohio highway last December.
Leelah died from blunt force trauma after stepping in front of a Freightliner semi-truck. Police investigators found her backpack, with her laptop inside, at the scene, and found searches for suicide prevention and runaway assistance in the computer’s search history.
There was no suicide note … that day. But a note did appear on Leelah’s Tumblr page after her death. In the note she talks of feeling like “a girl trapped in a boy’s body” since she was 4, but didn’t know it was possible for “a boy to become a girl” until 10 years later.
“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. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.”
Leelah Alcorn’s parents took her to see Christian therapists because she must be ill, right? And they refused her requests to aid her in transitioning because of that “illness.” She then told them she was gay, and they reacted by removing her from school, taking away her phone and computer, and isolating her in her room for months because she was “sick.”
And then she killed herself because she saw few choices possible in her future:
“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. 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.”
A group of her friends adopted the highway in her memory through an online campaign begun in August.
“We are keeping her memory alive by adopting and maintaining the stretch of highway where she lost her life, in hopes of bringing to light the issues faced by transgender people and so that these tragedies can be brought to an end.”
I had mixed feelings when I heard about this; I thought that renaming a stretch of roadway where she had taken her life seemed a little callous. No one renames a gun or a rope or a knife or a bottle of pills after the person who committed suicide.
But then I got to thinking … as people drive that road and see those signs with Leelah’s name on them, they might read it and forget it; or, they might read it and remember, and go home and find out about Leelah, who she was and why she died.
And maybe one of those people is another young person feeling different and not knowing why; another young person who might now understand who they are and why they are, and rather than feel alone, rather than feel like they have no choice, decide they can be themselves and they will be themselves.
Maybe Leelah’s name on a road sign will save just one life, and that’s more than enough to make it worthwhile.