In June of 2017, 17-year-old Leelah Acorn posted a suicide note to her Tumblr account explaining that she had felt like a girl since she was four. Her parents had rejected her on religious grounds, told her she was nuts, and forced her into psychiatric treatment. Leelah announced she was ending her life, and, around 2 a.m. that morning, walked out onto Interstate 71 and into the path of a speeding tractor-trailer.
Her Tumblr note had explained that she was sure she would never be accepted or happy. Her parents told her that “God doesn’t make mistakes:” “[P]arents, 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 their selves. That’s exactly what it did to me.’”
No one is punished for causing suicides like this. Her parents faced no legal consequences for actions which — according to Leelah’s own testimony — pushed her to take her life.
But that is about to change. Consider these three other related stories.
One: In 2017 two Pennsylvania parents from a religious fringe who insisted on prayer while their child slowly died from treatable bacterial pneumonia were charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment for withholding recommended medical care.
Two: The American Psychiatric Association now recognizes transsexuality as a physical (not mental) disorder. Major medical groups led by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association now recommend that hormone blockers, and later hormone treatment, be provided to kids diagnosed with transsexuality.
Three: A three-judge court in Canada has just ruled this month that an unnamed 14-year-old trans boy has the right to continue hormone treatment. After his conservative father had sought to block his son from continuing to get treatment, and, like Leelah, the boy had attempted suicide (except unlike her, he failed). The boy argued that stopping would leave him “stranded… I would feel like a freak.”
The court not only ordered that the boy had the right to continue hormone treatments, but that the father must use the correct pronouns and male name, adding that continuing to misgender and dead-name his son would amount to violence under the Family Law Act.
Said the court: “… a youth seeking gender affirming healthcare is to be treated — and must be treated — in the same way as any other youth seeking any other medical treatment.” This is a game-changer.
What we finally have here are the ingredients for ending the denial of medical treatment for transgender kids, and the suicides that result from them. This is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end of parents’ unlimited right to deny their trans children the recognition they need and the treatment they demand.
This is now a gender rights time-bomb hiding in plain sight, it’s just that no one has heard it ticking yet.
Sooner or later, groups like the AAP and AMA will shift gears so that providing hormones and hormone blockers (and surgery?) will not just be the recommended treatment but the prescribed treatment. And denying medical treatment for a child suffering from gender dysphoria will be no different from denying medical treatment for a child suffering from pneumonia — as both are increasingly recognized as life-threatening conditions.
Moreover, parents who willfully withhold and deny treatment that might or actually does result in another transgender suicide will be charged with child endangerment and/or involuntary manslaughter. No doubt this will be implemented in another country first, but eventually we will get it here as well.
That day can’t come too soon. Because withholding treatment from children that need it is child endangering. There are too many Leelah’s out there, desperate for treatment and recognition, whose suffering and untimely deaths could be easily averted if we provided genderqueer kids with the same basic medical rights their cisgender peers have always had.
Riki Wilchins is an author and advocate.