If you haven’t heard of Leelah Alcorn, I’ll copy the excellent summary from the Wikipedia article about her death:
Leelah Alcorn (born Joshua Ryan Alcorn, November 15, 1997 – December 28, 2014) was an American transgender girl whose suicide attracted international attention. Alcorn had posted a suicide note to her Tumblr blog, writing about societal standards affecting transgender people and expressing hope that her death would create a dialogue about discrimination, abuse and lack of support for transgender people.
Alcorn was raised in a conservative Christian household in Ohio. At age 14, she came out to her parents, who refused to accept her gender identity. When she was 16, they denied her request to undergo transition treatment, instead sending her to Christian conversion therapy intended to convince her to reject her gender identity and accept her sex and gender as assigned at birth. They subsequently removed her from school and revoked her access to social media. In her suicide note, Alcorn cited loneliness and alienation as key reasons to end her life and blamed her parents for causing these feelings. She ended her life by walking out in front of oncoming traffic.
On January 3, 2014, there was a candle-light vigil in Columbus where an estimated 400 people gathered to hear speakers, and convene in solidarity together. My whole family went, met with other friends and family, and generally had a good experience. There were several speakers who talked about the issues affecting transgender persons, and the crowd was receptive and congenial. Four or five police officers observed the whole thing from a small distance from the back of the crowd. I half-expected there to be some sort of counter-vigil, or harassers or something. Fortunately there were none.
Below are pictures I took of people at the vigil. My original idea had been to have people write their own thoughts or ‘messages’ on the white board that I had brought. Unfortunately a couple of things hindered that idea: a) the poor eraser quality and the cold made it difficult to erase the board cleanly, and b) the first couple of people didn’t really have ideas for what to write. So I decided to leave the board as ‘#StandUpForLeelah’ and just asked people if I could take their picture with it.
My primary goal was to show the diversity of people who supported the idea that transgender people are people, deserving to live to their full potential. I had really hoped to get a lot more people photographed, but I didn’t have a lot of time prior to the speakers taking the stage, and most people left shortly after they were done. But I got a few dozen people to stand for a StandUpForLeelah portrait, and I’m glad I did.
My secondary goal is that I wanted to make sure that I set an example for my kids, and sent a message to all of their friends (and my friends too). I will help and support, not judge. I will care for and nurture, not convert. I will listen and hug, not shun.