Leelah’s story is one you have probably heard. The transgender girl who committed suicide in 2014 by stepping in front of an oncoming tractor-trailer, citing her “Christian” parents’ rejection of her as the reason.
Deep, sad sigh. Heartache. Anger. A life destroyed because of people’s ignorance and cruelty.
On the Transgender Day of Remembrance we remember and mourn those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia. We also draw attention to the violence endured by transgender people. Some of that violence is physical, emotional and spiritual abuse from faith-based family rejection.
There are no words to express the collective grief over Leelah’s death, and anger at her parents’ misguided actions that drove her to it.
Leelah’s parents made several mistakes and didn’t know it – or didn’t care.
For those who do care, I’ve made a list, drawn from Leelah’s own words, of seven common mistakes – seven deadly sins – parents and others make in dealing with transgender youth.
I include parts of Leelah’s suicide note, indented.
1. Don’t Blame God for “Mistakes”
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.
Who said anything about God making mistakes? Why do we keep hearing about God not making mistakes – from the people who consider others’ expression of identity and orientation a mistake? You’re the ones threatened by what you call a mistake.
It is not trans people, or other LGBTQ people, who talk about God making mistakes. It is non-affirming Christians. The ones who won’t acknowledge anything that doesn’t fit in their box.
Don’t be so ignorant as to speak for God about mistakes, because honestly, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
2. Don’t Spiritually Abuse Your Child
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.
This is a type of conversion therapy, which is being banned in so many places. However, this deadly practice continues every day, in every state, under the protection of religious programs such as troubled teen camps, and pastoral counseling. Okay, so here’s the thing. Amateurs who act as therapists are dangerous — as dangerous as doctors who practice medicine without a license. If your method is already not working for your child, don’t just bring in reinforcements. (Remember the definition of insanity…) You’re the one who doesn’t understand your child’s life; you would be wise indeed to find someone to learn from. If you can’t grasp what your child is telling you, find someone to help you understand. These “Christian therapists” paved your child’s road to death. If your medical doctor had such a track record, you would sue them for malpractice. And win.
3. Don’t Project Your Selfishness Onto Your Child
Although the reaction from my friends was positive [after I came out as gay], my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight Christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.
Tell me if you see the irony here. These parents are worried about their image, their embarrassment, their “perfect little straight Christian boy.” It’s all about them. Then in a classic case of projection, these “therapists” called Leelah “selfish and wrong.” Parents, please: admit your own selfishness and then do something about it; but lay off your child. Don’t call them selfish for not giving you what you want.
4. Don’t Be Cruel and Unusually Punishing
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.
Don’t add cruelty to an already difficult situation. Don’t practice your own version of cruel and unusual punishment. Don’t practice therapy without a license. How many ways can I say this? We can even use the Bible if you want. “Parents, don’t provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.” Ephesians 6:4. “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.” Luke 6:31. “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8. The Bible calls you the body of Christ. Any sane person does not use a tourniquet on part of their body and expect it to thrive.
5. Choose Life. Offer Hope.
Did you see how Leelah had no hope things would get better? No friends, no support, no love. Who can move in those confines?
Speaking of the body of Christ, where is this family’s church? Who spoke any hope to Leelah? (I don’t mean pretend hope, which is “hope for change.”) Who brought the family up short for their inhumane treatment? The broader church is culpable here too, for teaching and regurgitating this death to each other. We need to use common sense, observe what’s happening around us, and admit that rejection leads to death. Rejection is like cutting off a branch and throwing it in the corner and expecting it to grow. Not going to happen. Want a verse? “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” Deuteronomy 30:19.
Or hear Jesus’ own words. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10.
We need to crack a few of those windows and let some sunlight in, because people are suffocating in there.
6. Don’t Hate Your Child.
This one seems like a no-brainer. Obviously we should love not hate our children. But parents keep repeating this mistake, so I guess I’d better lay it out clearly.
If you insist on cruelly and selfishly standing against your child, you will end up with a destroyed child. Results are very clear on this. You will not magically convert your LGBTQ child into someone who fits into your very small box.
One very small example of not hating your child is to respect her. Even after all this, even after she killed herself, you might have smacked your forehead and said, “We should have respected her, listened to her, seen her — even when we didn’t understand.” You could have used her preferred name and gender in your Facebook tribute to her. At the very least, that respect is a demonstration of not-hate.
Other parents: now that you’ve read this, you can no longer pretend you are doing this to obey God. Understand that God does not ask people to be cruel and selfish and ignorant, and God is not asking you to do this. You are doing this in your own deadly pride, which precedes a calamitous fall. Your child will be depressed, distorted, or dead.
7. Love Your Child.
Be proactive. Love your child in a way that feels like love. Not some convoluted thing about “doing what’s best for them” which obviously does not pan out when you go tooth and nail against your child. Don’t use the name of Jesus unless you remember how he described love. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13. You may have to lay down your preferences, your pride, your status among those who shouldn’t gossip and judge you anyway.
If you’re going to pull down Jesus’ name on this, then we insist that you heed his main directive to you: Love. Love God and love others. Everything else will fall into place.
(Click here to read Leelah’s story.)
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