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Parents need to open their minds

theweal-opinionsIn the cold early morning hours of Dec. 28, after years of being condemned by her own parents for announcing that she was transgender, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn slipped out of bed, snuck out of her house, walked four miles down the road, and performed her own execution by stepping into the path of a fast-moving tractor trailer.

Leelah wrote a heart-wrenching suicide note, which appeared on Tumblr shortly after her death, explaining the agony she had endured for more than 10 years.

Born Joshua Alcorn, the child’s confusion about her gender first began at the tender age of four. At 14, she approached her parents and explained that she identified as a girl – that she was transgender.

Her parents denied the possibility and, as Leelah explained in her suicide letter, her mother “reacted extremely negatively, telling [her] that it was a phase, that [she] would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that [she was] wrong.”

In the next sentence, the note makes a plea to other 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 (sic).”

Leelah Alcorn has become synonymous with transgender discrimination. People around the world identify with either Leelah or her parents, and social media is filled with posts that range from supportive to hateful towards both parties.

Leelah’s parents are criticized for making the teen feel unworthy and “wrong,” and many have blamed them for the suicide. Some even went so far as to suggest that the parents should be charged for the part they played in Leelah’s death.

While that is excessive, it is true that the teen’s parents are not 100 per cent blameless. Their treatment of their child is repugnant – locking her away from her friends by confiscating her cell phone and banning her from peer interaction for five months.

It is no wonder the teen fell into depression, as she was forced to exist within the walls of the family home with “no friends, no support, no love. Just [her] parents’ disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”

Leelah’s parents could take a page from the book of some other parents who have made headlines in the past few months, for their support of transgendered children.

Brad and Angelina’s eldest daughter, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, has insisted that she is called John and dresses as a boy, wearing a suit and tie alongside her father and brothers Pax and Maddox, at Angelina’s movie premiere in December – just two days before Leelah took her fatal step in front of a truck.

In a 2010 interview, Angelina told Vanity Fair that “she wants to be a boy. So we had to cut her hair. She likes to wear boys’ everything. She thinks she’s one of the brothers.”

She went on to say that “it’s who she is. It’s been a surprise to us and it’s really interesting, but she’s so much more than that – she’s funny and sweet and pretty.”

For the most part, Brad and Angelina have received kudos for their acceptance of their daughter, though some—like parenting expert Cherie Corso—criticize the couple, arguing that a child cannot understand gender issues at such a young age, and they should not be fostering an idea that could “expose their daughter to possible ridicule.”

But their support is unwavering. John expressed a male identity as a toddler, a conviction that has not altered, and so they stand behind their child with steadfast love. It’s a model a lot of parents could stand to follow.

Many people read the story of Australian parents Yolanda Bogert and Guy Kershaw, who issued a heartwarming retraction of their original birth announcement in a show of support for their transgender son:

“In 1995 we announced the arrival of our sprogget, Elizabeth Anne, as a daughter. He informs us that we were mistaken. Oops! Our bad. We would now like to present, our wonderful son – Kai Bogert. Loving you is the easiest thing in the world. Tidy your room.”

Kai was overwhelmed by the public encouragement offered by his parents, and announced that he was happier in that moment that he had been in his entire life.

The impact parents can have on children confused—and possibly frightened—about their gender identification is remarkable. There is no shortage of evidence online of transgender children who are thriving with the support of their families. Many of them have even posted on the Facebook page “Justice for Leelah Alcorn.”

Society is generally uneducated in the realm of transgender, and it is often feared as an “unknown.” Many associate it immediately with homosexuality, though the two do not necessarily always fit hand-in-hand.

If young people are questioning the way they feel within their own skin, their disorientation should not be taken lightly or cast easily aside as “wrong.” These reactions can lead to devastating loneliness, and could result in depression heavy enough to crush a person’s will to live – as in Leelah’s case.

Before signing off on her suicide note, Leelah wrote, “Fix society, please.”

It has taken the social media world by storm as #FixSociety – an appeal to everyone to work toward the evolution of thought, a prayer to parents to listen, a petition to the world to empathize with and show tolerance for transgender individuals of every age and race.

The underlying fact is that parents need to be understanding and accepting of their children, no matter what the situation.

Children will make decisions, will make mistakes, will make messes – but they always deserve the unfaltering love and support of their parents.

The fact that your child is your son is not more important than the fact that your child is alive.

Fix society, please.

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