How Should We Think About Leelah Alcorn Who Committed Suicide Because Of A Crisis In Gender Identity?

Early in the morning on December 28, Josh “Leelah” Alcorn left his house, headed to Interstate 71 near his hometown of King Mills, Ohio, stepped in front of a tractor trailer as it cruised down the highway, and killed himself. He was 17. Soon after a suicide note note appeared on Tumblr.

“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. If you are reading this, 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.”

Leelah’s parents identify themselves as Christians who loved their son “unconditionally” and are grieving this terrible loss. The suicide note indicates that there was significant tension in the Alcorn home. Leelah refers to being removed from school and banned from the internet including the community of friends that she relied on for support. She writes about being forced to see Christian counselors and feeling increased self hatred. Many have taken to the internet and social media to blame the parents for their child’s death with some even calling for criminal prosecution.

I have no interest in blaming or accusing the parents. None of us know what went on in that house or what was said in the family. Nor do we know what we would have done or said if faced with similar circumstances. I think it’s possible to have compassion for them and their child and to grieve for both. But I am interested in trying to figure out what sort of response a Christian parent should have. How should any of us respond if our child or grandchild came to us and said that they were struggling with their sexual identity?

I think that the first thing that I hope I would do is to let my kid know that I love him and that nothing is ever going to change that. There will probably be disagreements between us and there will probably be disappointments for both of us but, by God’s grace, none of that means that I will love them any less. I want to be there to listen and to understand the best I can. There’s really nothing they can say or do that will break the bond between us.

But that doesn’t mean that I will necessarily agree with them. Nor does it mean that I will approve of their choices or help them do something that I think is harmful to them. Love means saying, “No” or “I don’t agree.” It’s only a very superficial form of love that offers approval in the form of a blank check.

Transgender issues are becoming more and more a part of the discussion both inside and outside the church. And as of right now Christians are behind in their efforts to have a biblically informed and humane response. We need both a deeper understanding of what people are experiencing and of biblical teaching. One of the people doing some good work in this area is Mark Yarhouse. Here is a blog post he wrote offering an initial perspective on gender identity issues. At the end of the post he refers to a book on the subject that is due out this year.

But for now here are some biblical principles that can help shape a Christian parent’s response to their child sharing with them a deep personal struggle.

1. You aren’t a mistake. The Bible says that God created you in his image (Genesis 1:26-27) and that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

2. God has a deep love for you (John 3:16).

3. This world isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Ever since sin entered the world, their has been brokenness and dysfunction (Romans 8:18-21). No one escapes the pain. No one.

Not only is the world not the way it’s supposed to be but neither are we the way we are supposed to be (Genesis 3). Every part of every person has been corrupted by sin. That means that our mind, bodies, relationships, work, attitudes, words (EVERY PART OF US) has been tainted by sin.

4. The good news is that Jesus redeems sinners (Romans 5:8). Through the cross where Jesus died to pay the penalty of sin, God is redeeming all things (Colossians 1:20). He’s redeeming the world. He’s redeeming our lives. He invites everyone to turn from their sin and follow him.

The only way anyone can become a Christian is by grace–God’s undeserved favor (Ephesians 2:8-9). That means that no Christian is better than anyone else.

5. Jesus understands what you are going through. He is not distant. He is Immanuel which means “God with us” facing the trials and temptations we face (Hebrews 2:17-18).

6. I care far more about you following Jesus than I care what gender you identify with. God has marked out a different race for each of us (Hebrews 12:2). No one’s race is the same. That’s okay. My hope and prayer for you ultimately isn’t whether you identify being male or female. My greatest hope is that you put your faith in Jesus. My greatest prayer is that you see in him the beauty and glory of God and your soul craves more of him (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

7. God will use this struggle in your life for good. Right now it’s hard to believe that the trial you have can ever turn out for good. But God promises it will. He will use it to keep you depending on him, to humble you, to create in you a compassion for others who struggle with all kinds of issues. God will use this struggle to make you more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).

8. This is a long, difficult journey and you need some good friends to go on it with you. No one who reads the words of Jesus can ever think that becoming a Christian means that life will get easier (Acts 14:22). In fact, the Bible promises that in this world we will experience trials and difficulties that are beyond our ability to bear by ourselves. That’s why God promises to go with us himself (Isaiah 43:1-3).

But even God’s presence isn’t enough so he tells us to have good friends who will encourage us to keep following Jesus and to be involved in a good church where we will be consistently reminded of the gospel (Hebrews 10:24-25).

9. One day every Christian will be with Jesus, our struggle will end, and we will experience everlasting joy (Revelation 21:1-5). The apostle Paul looked forward to the day when he would leave this world and forever be in the presence of Jesus. He said that being with Jesus is far better than anything this world has to offer (Philippians 1:21-24). David says that in God’s presence there are eternal pleasures (Psalm 16:11). I don’t know what that means exactly but it sounds pretty good to me.

Until that day, together we press on running the race that God has marked out for us.

3 Comments

  1. Phil said:

    Thanks for posting this. We need to understand that unlike the Crossing, many churches and Christians are truly anti-queer. I used to believe that my queer friends who railed against their experiences growing up in church were just too sensitive or too vulnerable or too young to understand the mixed messages that they received from well meaning pastors, youth leaders or parents. Now, I’m not so sure.

    The anti-church bias in the queer community is not just a misunderstanding of Christian intentions – for some it is rooted in personal scars. We need to be prepared to get an earful from queers who were actually abused by self-professing Christians – if not physically, at least emotionally and socially.

    I have had to learn to not get defensive around my church bashing friends. Some have very good reasons for their anger and hatred against the church and by association against God. What is exciting is that because of this early disaffection with church, many really have no sense of who Christ is or how much they are loved.

    I appreciate you using this post to help build bridges to the queer community. They need us to be there for them and they need through us to experience Christ’s love.

  2. AS said:

    Thanks for posting this. Great reminders. In light of the book, Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill, this post makes sense regarding how a Christian should respond.

  3. LC said:

    Thanks much for posting this. Your article is really helpful. My husband and I talked about your article in today’s breakfast time. We also looked up for those verses you quoted for better understanding.
    However, we hope that you can cite the Scripture more carefully and consider the context. For example, in your no 6., it would be better to quote like ” Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us ( marked out for each of us).” And it will be helpful to explain what “race” means.

    Thanks again for writing this article.

    best,

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