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Rest In Power: The Leelah Alcorn Story

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For a society conventionally embroiled in gender-binarism (existence of gender as just two disconnected forms of masculinity and femininity), the last few years have proven to be revolutionary: there has been increased awareness and acceptance of gender identities which don’t lie in these extremely polar categories.

A major incident that brought the attention of the global community to the vulnerability of the transgender people, especially trans kids, was the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year old from Ohio, during the last days of 2014. Leelah, born Joshua Alcorn to conservative Christian parents, was a transgender girl who was driven to suicide due to non-acceptance of her gender identity and the isolation and rebukes she was subjected to.

Leelah timed her suicide note to appear hours after her death on her Tumblr blog, in which she described the oppressive atmosphere at her home and her parents’ disapproval of her identity under the pretence of ‘religious beliefs’. She ended her note with a plea, saying: “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 f**ked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

Leelah’s wish didn’t go unfulfilled. As her suicide note went viral, it sparked debate on the rights and recognition of transgender people and the vulnerability of transgender kids who are struggling with their gender identities in a society that sees them as an abominable anomaly. Leelah’s parents further caused a furore by refusing to accept Leelah’s identity even after her death, continuing to misgender her and referring to her as ‘Joshua’.

This was met with passionate protests on social media with hashtags like #RestInPower and #HerNameWasLeelah trending worldwide. It also resulted in a petition to ban conversion therapy (measures to convert people to conventionally accepted gender/sexual identities) which was called ‘Leelah’s Law’ and garnered a lot of support.

This struggle for recognition didn’t start with Leelah and the after effects weren’t limited to just her either. Social media became a platform for movements to protect transgender kids and to reveal details and spread awareness about the horrifying violence against the transgender community, including transgender people of colour, who are doubly oppressed.

Despite the grim statistics and saddening accounts of oppression, there have been notable changes in society’s attitude towards the transgender community. Barack Obama recently talked about protection for the LGBT community, making it the first time the community was directly acknowledged in an official State Of The Union address. Laverne Cox- a transgender actress as well as a LGBT rights activist- best recognised for her role in the popular TV series ‘Orange Is The New Black’ recently became the first transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy award and was also featured in TIME Magazine. Here, she spoke about her trials growing up as a transgender woman and addressed several misconceptions about the community.

Though the situation is far from positive, especially in India, occurrences like these add power to the movement for transgender rights and lead us towards being a more inclusive and accepting society.

Shubham Kaushik
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Shubham swears by three Fs in life: Fall Out Boy, Feminism and Food, and hopes to combine them into an amazing book someday. Staunchly against heteronormativity and a believer in the power of hugs, she considers herself a pop-culture 'activist' and a crusader against the stigma attached to fanfiction. A student of Economics at Miranda House, she likes indulging in discussions about the fragility of money and the absurdity of life. Find her reblogging memes on Tumblr or drop her a word at [email protected] if you want to discuss bands, books or have a nice pun to share.

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