Leelah: “My death needs to mean something”

By Kate Kendell, Esq.NCLR Executive Director

“We are who we are, and there’s very little we can do to change our core. If we’re asked to change, there will be a chasm so deep inside of us that it will threaten our very life.”
–Jodie Patterson, mother of transgender child

The suicide last week of 17-year-old transgender girl Leelah Alcorn was a soul-crushing reminder of how our society is failing our transgender youth. Leelah’s parents rejected who she was and subjected her to conversion therapy, apparently believing the deadly lie that a person’s gender identity can be changed. In her last writings Leelah, left us with this charge: “Fix society. Please.”

Like countless LGBT youth across this country, Leelah struggled with the anguish and isolation of navigating a world in which her core identity was erased and rejected. Despite the gains we have achieved in securing the equal rights of LGBT people in many arenas, too many of our children continue to suffer the ravages of intolerance and bigotry.

Last year, we at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) launched our #BornPerfect campaign to end conversion therapy in five years. For more than 20 years, we have witnessed the terrible damage done by subjecting children to the discredited practices that are designed to change their immutable identity. We have talked to countless conversion therapy survivors, who continue as adults to experience deep emotional scars caused by these practices, even as they thrive and live accomplished lives. Tragically, we have also learned of too many of our brothers and sisters who did not survive.

In 1970, a 5-year-old gender non-conforming boy named Kirk Murphy began treatment at George Rekers’ clinic—a clinic that promised it could “cure” homosexuality—at UCLA. Like many children subjected to conversion therapy today, Kirk was rewarded for stereotypically masculine behaviors and punished for stereotypically feminine behaviors. Several years later, Kirk was pronounced cured, and George Rekers went on to build a highly influential career based, in part, on this so-called “success story.” When Kirk was 17, the two met again. Kirk told Rekers he was gay and suicidal and didn’t know what to do. Rekers continued to publish research citing his success story. Then, at 38, Kirk took his own life.

Today, the dangers of conversion therapy are well established. These practices have been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization across the country.  We want to believe that this barbaric practice has ended, but sadly, that is not the case. As many as one in three LGBT people have experienced some form of conversion therapy at the hands of a mental health professional or a faith leader. There are still many religious leaders that continue to preach that LGBT children are doomed to eternal damnation. Conversion therapists continue to peddle their sham practices to ignorant and vulnerable parents.

In the past two years we have helped pass legislation to stop conversion therapy on minors in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia, and we have successfully defended those laws from challenges brought by the therapists who traffic in the lie of conversion therapy. But we must do more. And that is where you can help.

We need you to advocate in your state for laws that ban this harmful practice. We need you to talk about the dangers of conversion therapy to your friends and family. We need you to help us create a climate in which no loving parent would consider subjecting their child to these dangerous and discredited practices.

We are working with legislators across the country to stop conversion therapy, and we are bringing cases to hold those who subject youth to these dangerous practices accountable for the devastation they have caused. Your local advocacy, your voice, your support can help us realize the goal of #BornPerfect. We can end this condemned practice and we can give renewed hope to LGBT youth everywhere.

It is impossible to come to terms with Leelah’s death. But this tragedy strengthens our resolve to create a world in which all children are cherished and supported to become their authentic selves. Leelah’s utterly tragic and completely avoidable death must not be in vain. We can “fix society,” but we can’t do it without you.


The #BornPerfect Campaign will hold a Twitter Town Hall from 3:30-4:30 p.m. PT on Thursday, January 8, 2015, to discuss the fight to stop conversion therapy. Join the conversation with NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Kirk Murphy’s sister Maris Ehlers, survivor and mental health expert James Guay, faith leader Justin Tanis, and #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator Sam Ames. Ask questions in advance and during the Town Hall @NCLRights using #BornPerfect.

NCLR’s #BornPerfect Campaign Hosts Twitter Town Hall on Conversion Therapy

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (January 6, 2015)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) will host a Twitter town hall on Thursday, January 8 at 6:30 PM ET to discuss the dangers of conversion therapy, the efforts to stop these practices once and for all, and what the community can do.

The town hall is organized days after the tragic death of Leelah Alcorn, who took her life after facing years of rejection and enduring conversion therapy. Starting now, Twitter users can submit their questions using hashtag #BornPerfect.

The town hall panelists will include:

  • Kate Kendell, Esq. @KateKendell, NCLR Executive Director.
  • Maris Ehlers @mepinmin, sister of Kirk Murphy, who took his life at the age of 38 in 2003 after enduring conversion therapy as a child.
  • James Guay, LMFT @JamesTherapy, conversion therapy survivor, marriage and family therapist, and #BornPerfect Advisory Committee Co-Chair.
  • Rev. Dr. Justin Tanis @Justin_Tanis, Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry Managing Director and co-author of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.
  • Sam Ames, Esq. @SamSAmesEsq, NCLR Staff Attorney and #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator.

NCLR has been at the forefront of efforts to protect youth and their families from these dangerous practices for more than two decades and helped pass legislation in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia. Earlier this year, NCLR launched its #BornPerfect campaign to stop conversion therapy across the country over the next five years by passing laws, fighting in courtrooms, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by attempts to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.


Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.