Rejected in Death: When Families of Trans Suicide Victims Refuse to Acknowledge Their Gender

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Hope Verbeeck

Hope Verbeeck was 17 years old.

Most 17 year old girls are going out on dates, preparing for their senior prom, texting with friends from across the room and going to parties.

Not Hope.

Hope was a Transgender girl. She loved the theater. She was an honors student (As many Trans students are, given they are typically isolated by their peers, thus measure their success in studies rather than popularity.) She was also a member of her High School’s student council. She had already been accepted to 11 colleges, many who offered scholarships in recognition of her scholarly record. The future for Hope Verbeeck was… incredibly hopeful.

And then, she committed suicide. Just as hundreds (if not thousands) of Transgender girls around the country do when they’re not allowed to live in their truth due to the restrictive nature of social boundaries, especially when aggressively imposed by ones own family. This was the case with Leelah Alcorn, an Ohio teenager who stepped in front of an oncoming tractor trailer to take her own life. Her mother, when speaking to the media on Leelah being Transgender, said; “ “We don’t support that, religiously.

Leelah left a note, pleading with society to change.

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A Portion of Leelah Alcon’s Suicide Note

A major factor in Leelah’s decision to take her own life was the rejection she faced from her religious parents who wanted to force her into conversion therapy. The constant challenges and attempts to control the way she represented herself incurred tremendous damage to her confidence and ability to love herself as she was. In her suicide not, she made a list of apologies to those she loved, but had a special message for her parents…

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Leelah Alcorn’s Apologies in her Suicide letter

Sadly, even in death, Leelah’s Mother continued to reject her child, referring to her only by her male name, calling her daughter her son instead as she asked twitter for thoughts and prayers. She made sure the local school paper, who intended to print a tribute to Leelah, only refer to her by her male name as well.

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I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child.

However, I also can’t imagine the agony a Parent must experience knowing they played a pivotal role in their child’s decision to commit suicide. In a correct world, Leelah’s parents would be held accountable and charged with torturing their daughter by forcing her to live as a gender she wasn’t. That they continue to disrespect Leela’s wishes, even in death, shows no remorse is to be found, and shockingly, no regret for the consequences of their child abuse.

Similarly to Leela, Hope left a letter.

My heart sinks even writing this. I found myself inconsolable over the fact that these beautiful young women with worlds of potential are leaving us letters begging for change as they pour their soul onto a page hoping it will influence something positive before they take their own lives. But it happens every single day. It just isn’t always reported. Oftentimes, radically religious parents who are complicit in their transgender child’s suicide hide the fact that they were expressing Transgender characteristics. The only way we discovered Leelah was a Trans girl was by her active social media wherein she proudly identified as Trans, and also lamented often about her parents grotesque neglect.

In Hope’s letter, she left very specific instructions for her parents to follow. She asked to be referred to by her proper pronouns, and her chosen name.

“I would like to be remembered as a transgender pansexual teenage girl named Hope. Being transgender is my gender identity. My sexual orientation, or sexual identity, is being pansexual, meaning that I do not care about what the person is; I care about who they are. Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with and gender identity is who you go to bed as.” — Hope Verbeeck

In her obituary, published using male pronouns and her male name in complete disregard of Hope’s wishes, it read; “He left a beautiful letter letting his parents know that he knew he had been loved unconditionally, but he needed to move on.”

While they acknowledged that Hope was Transgender, they claimed in the obituary that the process was “just too much for her.

Forgive me if I find that suspicious.

The media joined Hope’s parents in referring to her by male pronouns and using her male name, again, disrespecting her in death.

In a terrible interview with Hope’s parents, the Miami Herald attempted to paint a Norman Rockwell picture perfect family, all while they degraded Hope throughout the entire article. It’s truly a slap in the face, as it portrays Hope’s parents as Trans-supportive rather than Trans-oppressive. Yet they refused to call her by her name or acknowledge her gender. Anyone else find that the antithesis of support?

“Mother and son met with “a marvelous team at the University of Miami” that specializes in transgender transitioning. Eric went for sessions with a psychologist. They met with an endocrinologist and surgeon. Eric began hormone replacement about 10 months ago. This summer they planned on laser hair removal. Eric joined support groups but didn’t have a lot of time for them because she was very much into pursuing the arts.” — Miami Herald

It sounded like Hope possessed optimism for her future and was excited about her transition. So how does a bright and beautiful girl leave a note saying-

“Dear Mommy and Papa, I am so sorry to do this to you but I have killed myself by jumping off the top floor … I could no longer live my life as a lie. I’m so sorry I lied to you. I was losing hope in the world and could not see my way out of the wrong body so I decided it was time for my life to end. Please forgive me for any sins I committed.” — Hope Verbeeck’s suicide letter

It begs the question, who was asking her to lie? Her Mother, despite refusing to call her Hope, claimed she had been the very portrait of a supportive Mother. Why would her daughter apologize for lying to her? Most disturbing of all, why did this child with the world in the palm of her hands, having achieved so much in her young life, decide that her status as a Transgirl was the best reason to kill herself? Why did she ask forgiveness for “sinning?”

I have to wonder if the parents are (poorly) feigning acceptance in order to avoid the same social media storming of the gates that Leelah’s parents experienced. Were Hope’s parents protecting themselves? Does a supportive mother throw your death wishes out the window and write your obituary as a male, despite your directives? No, that’s not what a Mother who claims to have been supportive would do. Nor would she relentlessly refer to Hope by her male name and use male pronouns.

Do these parents not realize that their rejection is a major factor in the suicides of our Trans youth? Rejection that leads to suicide starts at home, and it is a long, arduous struggle until the child is so defeated they see no light anymore, no love, and thus see reason in taking their own life.

I find it reprehensible that these parents are not investigated for the emotional trauma they inflict upon their daughters and sons. If they were cisgender children who committed suicide due to abuse, the parents would be tried and convicted. The loss of a life is not one we can resolve. Nothing said can change the child's mind or bring them back- something pushed them to that ledge and beyond that point of returning.

I read these articles quoting the parents and they seem almost content, or, at best, disappointed. But they won, getting to steal their child’s identity; They lay their claim to their name and gender and how it is represented for all time, for all the world to see.

Hope’s parents grossly dismissing her wishes before dying is the equivalence to spitting on her grave. There is almost a glib satisfaction in how they parade the wrong pronouns and name like it’s a badge they’ve won in a war. They take control and continue that pattern even after death.

I take no solace, nor do I find comfort in the tormented lives these children led, nor do I pity the parents who pushed them into a place so dark that their spirit of truth could find no room to breath anymore.

We need laws to protect these children from aggressively religious parents, and we need to classify the trauma imposed upon gender variant children as abuse, neglect and in some cases, murder.

Because you don’t always kill someone with your hands, or a gun… sometimes you do it by destroying their belief they should be here at all.

Actor, Filmmaker, LGBTQ+ & Women’s Rights Activist All work copyright phaylens@gmail.com https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co

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