Leelah Alcorn And The Quiet Genocide Of Transgender People

BY ZACK FORD for Think Progress 


Leelah Alcorn’s death was a preventable tragedy. Here was a 17-year-old girl with full access to all of the information available in the 21st century about transgender identities, including many safe and effective ways to transition. But as she wrote in her own suicide note before jumping in front of a tractor trailer this week, there was no hope attached to those possibilities — no trust that it could, in fact, get better. She had given up on crying for help.

Reacting to her death on a personal level, I was reminded of some research done by two professors at James Madison University, Sue Spivey and Christine Robinson. A few years ago, Spivey and Robinson conducted an in-depth investigation of ex-gay therapy and the groups that promote it, analyzed through the lens of “social death” and the United Nation’s definitions of genocide. The U.N.’s 1948 Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide lays out several definitions besides explicit mass murder, and Spivey and Robinson found that the ex-gay movement arguably constituted all of the definitions of genocide other than mass murder. Here’s the full list:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The same approach has not yet been taken for transphobia, but as an academic model, it’s a useful tool. Even if specific individuals are not orchestrating a genocide of transgender people, culture arguably is. Despite the rapid progress of LGBT equality in recent years, an overwhelming rejection of non-heterosexual sexual orientations and non-cisgender gender identities persists in communities across the country, and the mental and physical health consequences for LGBT people have been increasingly documented.

Glancing at the list of the U.N.’s definitions, it’s actually easy to see how they apply to the transgender community. Trans people are regularly subjected to violent hate crimes, to the extent that those crimes are even properly documented. Campaigns against trans equality regularlyportray trans people as predatory perverts, diminishing their ability to interact with the public square in even the most basic of ways. The Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest church groups in the country, preaches that transgender identities don’t even exist, and that trans people should not be respected for being true to their gender. Transgender people are more likely to be unemployed, homeless, denied health care, denied police protection, and living in poverty. In many states, to even receive legal documentation respecting their identities, trans people must first undergo sterilizing gender reassignment surgeries, sacrificing their reproductive ability even if they don’t feel it’s an important step to take in their transition, though that reality is slowing improving. Transgender parents have also had their gender identities used to reject them custody of their own children.

Targeted for often-lethal violence. Targeted for harassment with inaccurate demonizing stereotypes. Refused basic access to goods and services. Forced to give up their reproductive ability to be recognized. Denied custody of their own children. It’s not a stretch to see how cultural transphobia could constitute a form of genocide.

To read Zach Ford's entire article, click HERE.