On 28 December last year, a new post appeared on 17-year old Leelah Alcorn’s Tumblr blog: her suicide note. She had taken her life a few hours earlier, after enduring years of alienation and abuse from her parents. After coming out to them as transgender and asking for permission to transition, Leelah was sent to Christian conversion therapy and removed from school. Even in death, her parents refused to acknowledge her gender identity, referring to her as their ‘son’.
Leelah Alcorn’s suicide quickly attracted international attention and outrage. She became a reminder of the horrible abuse and oppression that transgender youth all too often have to face. Numerous vigils and protests in her honour have been organised all over the world, calling for ‘Leelah’s law’, a ban on conversion therapy in the US. On Saturday 14 March, a student-organised demonstration was carried out on Merchant Square in Glasgow City Centre.
The event attracted a large crowd of all gender identities who wished to stand in solidarity with Leelah Alcorn and every other trans individual who have had to suffer abuse, discrimination and oppression simply for being who they are. Leelah Alcorn was not a solitary case – 50% of all transgender youth will have attempted suicide by their 20th birthday.
However, the event was also organised to celebrate those that are still with us, and to provide a starting point for the creation a safe space for all trans people in Glasgow. The LGBTQ+ societies of both the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde, as well as the Glasgow Anarchist Federation, were all present. The newly formed society Glasgow Food Not Bombs offered free food and donations for local LGBT Youth projects were also being collected.
Many brave speakers took up the megaphone to tell their stories, and this only confirmed that we as a society are starting from a very low point in the struggle for trans people to have equal rights to a life with dignity and respect. The many trans people speaking up about their own lived experiences left no one emotionally unaffected. Many discussed what the way forward for the trans movement should be.
”We need to go beyond the law,” said Tanya from the Anarchist Federation in their speech. ”Our goal has to be for the liberation of gendered oppression, and nothing less.”
N. Carter, one of the primary organisers of the manifestation, spoke of the three guiding principles behind the event: awareness, remembrance and celebration.
”While spreading awareness and the legal side of things is important, as is remembering the people who have been murdered, committed suicide or otherwise suffered violence because of their identity, I also think it’s really important to celebrate trans people who are alive and to keep fighting for them. So having this outward demonstration was actually a secondary thing – the primary goal was to create an environment where people could come together. I wanted to create a space for trans people in Glasgow, because I felt that was lacking.”
What other concrete actions could be taken improve the lives of trans people?
“Things like providing mental and physical healthcare, and making sure that the medical profession does not discriminate, as well as educating people about this in schools and making it a part of sex ed. For example, last year in my high school in Canada, our health class talked a little bit about ‘oh some people are gay’, but I went to the administration and the teachers and made a workshop that talked specifically about gender as well. I think doing things like that here is really important, because you need to reach those 14-15 years old who may be questioning, but you also need to make people into better allies and family members.”
The T is often forgotten about in LGBTQ+. How do you think the community should work to be more inclusive and to reach out to those who need it most, like Leelah?
“The basic answer to this is that you just need to put more effort into reaching out, being more inclusive and being conscious of these issues. Some parts of the movements are very concentrated on certain people in the West who have a certain level of civil rights, who can get married and have families and stable jobs, but people forget that not everyone is at that level. There are still people we need to fight for. ”
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced arranging this event?
”Some of the challenges have arisen because we are first years who have never arranged an event like this before. We worked together with the LGBTQ+ societies of Glasgow and Strathclyde, but most of this have been organised by individuals without any experience. Trying to go through the Council created a lot of issues, and they ended up being pretty obstructive – we ended up having to postpone twice because of them. For example, they wanted us to pay £300 for insurance, and that was not really feasible, especially organising something for the trans community, which is a very poverty-stricken community for a lot of reasons. That’s why we ended up being a static demonstration, because that allowed to to bypass the City Council. We also had some issues with Glasgow University. When we were still looking for funds for insurance, we went to Student Services to ask about that, and when we said ‘we’re trying to work with the LGBT society’, the woman working there asked ‘what’s LGBT?’. This was at the exact time when the Pride flag was being flown right outside the main building! It was really shocking.”
N. Carter has also set up a Facebook group, Glasgow Trans Collective, for all transgender and non-binary people in Glasgow to give each other support and arrange future meet-ups.
”People need communities,” they said. ”No matter how many loving and supportive cis and straight friends you have, you also need people who have shared your experiences. You need both.” Louise Athwal from the Glasgow University Psychiatry Interest Group, one of the speakers at the event, has also created a Facebook group (Butterfly Effect) for organising transgender awareness events. She is calling for transgender people who are willing to share their experiences on video and have them sent to the Paediatric Society in order to spread awareness of trans issues in the medical profession, where transgender people currently suffer huge amounts of discrimination.
The FB groups can be found here:
Glasgow Trans Collective: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1621307718103113/
Butterfly Effect: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1511792292402388/