Leelah’s Murder Is OUR Fault

Leelah Alcorn’s death was practically a murder. It shows how America’s legal system, which enshrines parental rights above children’s rights, has killed another young person.

More importantly though, we need to see that Leelah’s murder is our fault. We have not done enough, taught enough, said enough, or worked hard enough to stop this horror from happening. And it is a horror, and it was preventable.

Discrimination Against Youth

Leelah’s story shows us- yet again- the discrimination against youth that seems inherent in our society. The horribly preventable circumstance that led to Leelah’s death are unfortunately the norm for every single American youth today, regardless of how they identify. The fact that Leelah identified as trans exacerbated that reality for her. Follow me: Every single American youth today is targeted in the most malicious ways throughout society simply for being young. This is the case whether they are cis, straight or queer; wealthy, poor or working class; academically gifted, creatively driven or athletically poised. Youth are singularly denied their rights, oppressed for their identities, conscripted for their abilities, and completely downtrodden because of their because of their ages and our society. And its merely and entirely about their age.

Add distinguishing factors to their age such as race, gender identity, socio-economic class, and academic ability, and youth move from being “merely” enslaved to entirely oppressed. The enslaving factory of this adultocracy is so deeply entrenched that parents, teachers, youth workers and many many people who call themselves youth allies merely perpetuate it without ever knowing it. My book focuses on helping these individuals see beyond their own lenses and aspire to be something greater.

Personal Action

The most effective piece of this article focuses on you. Its what David Bond from The Trevor Project said at the end of the piece:

However, Bond told me, even just one supportive adult in a LGBT teen’s life decreases suicidal ideation. “Be consistent in that person’s life and check in in a genuine way – and don’t be afraid to ask if they’re thinking of killing themselves,” Bond advised would-be allies.

“There’s a misconception that if you ask the question you’re going to put the idea in someone’s head. But it’s more often a helpful question than a harmful one.”

Whatever the answer – and I believe more states banning so-called conversion therapy and easier legal and financial avenues for emancipation, especially for older teens, should be a big part of that – we need more action now.

“A year feels like forever when you’re young,” PFLAG’s Sanchez told me. It’s no longer good enough to remind LGBT kids that “it gets better”. We need to figure out more legal, safe alternatives for those who can’t wait that long.

Everyone of us can take action and do something about this, but we have to face the reality that everyone of us is responsible for Leelah’s death (and the unnoted deaths of so many other American youth) first, and then work from that place. THAT is the work to do, no matter who we are.

And none of that is meant to take away, minimize or otherwise continue the oppression of trans, cis, or anyone who identifies as “other” throughout society. Its meant to highlight the compounding factors that are attempting to decimate peoples’ senses of ability, possibility and hope. We can do better than mere survival, and Leelah’s story demonstrates another way that can happen. Each of us can take action.

Legal Action

America’s legal system must act to do several things:

  • Stop allowing abusive parents to kill youth;
  • Stop devious judges from profiteering off youth imprisonment;
  • Stop racist and classist educators from reinforcing the school-to-prison pipeline;
  • Stop social workers from placing youth in harms way;
  • Stop police from arbitrarily enforcing laws against youth;
  • Change laws to allow all youth everywhere to choose their living situations;
  • Develop a guaranteed income for all youth, everywhere;
  • Prevent youth oppression by acknowledging the full personhood of children and youth from birth.

When these things happen, horrific and preventable deaths like what happened to Leelah Alcorn will not happen again. But not before then. If you really want to change the situation, join the struggle to end discrimination against young people.

Thanks, Kate, for calling me to write about this.

Acceptable Bullying

Bullying has many roots that educators are quick to call out: The home environment, parental role models, peer influence, mass media, and poor school funding all get their fair share. However, there is a more direct root that teachers and principals can start fixing right now, no excuses: School acceptance.

From their first moments walking through the doorways of school buildings across the nation, students are taught that they must conform to that school’s norms in order to survive. That means their clothing, their speech, their behavior, and their attitude must fit within the “acceptable” ranges. A variety of mechanisms allow adults to determine and enforce those ranges, including the curriculum (and hidden curriculum), classroom management methods, building-wide behavior management (including punishment and rewards), and the school climate in general. Students reinforce these ranges of acceptability among themselves according to their investment in them. This generally focuses on peer network formation, or cliques. Cliques reinforce each key determinate of school acceptability. While they tend to grow and thrive threw middle and high school, research and parental anecdotes shows that cliques are established in elementary school and earlier. 

I have seen an increase in the amount of enforcement by students over the last decade I have worked in schools. One of the ways this enforcement has always reared its head is as acceptable bullying, which is made okay by adults. Bullying dates from the roots of schools, and earlier (and still) in the public places young people interact, such as neighborhoods and malls. Bullying is a deft way to deal out punishment for unacceptability by boys who don’t behave in a way that is perceived as “masculine” enough; and a stealth way for girls to reinforce acceptable behaviors for their peers, as well. It’s also used to shore up attitudes about social standing, cultural backgrounds, religious belief, educational levels, and many other factors.

I think that any advocate genuinely concerned with student voice will naturally gravitate to bullying as an issue in schools because bullying is among the easiest ways adults manipulate students every single day. We do this through every way I listed above. The question for me becomes how to teach young people about their voices in ways that allow them to authentically experience the impacts of bullying without perpetuating them problem. How can we increase empathy through meaningful student involvement? 
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!