Leelah Alcorn’s suicide has brought about a fresh public awareness of the phenomenon of parental negligence and abuse under the guise of religious freedom. As People describes it, “Leelah’s death has sparked a growing debate about how to approach transgender youth, as well as a public backlash to how her parents, Doug and Carla Alcorn, handled their child’s situation.” As we’ll see below, it is clear that there is a link between higher rates of LGBT teen suicide and the anti-LGBT religious households in which many teens grow up.
The following is an argument that we as a society should hold parents and guardians accountable for working to improve the emotional well-being of their LGBT children as based on a science-based understanding of mental health regardless of their held religious beliefs. In the same way we have begun in the U.S. and the U.K. to criminalize attempted “faith healing” as a form of physical abuse against dying children, we can and should criminalize attempted “gay healing” as a form of emotional abuse toward LGBT children. In short, to attempt to convince a child that the sexuality or gender with which they identify is the result of a mental disorder is nothing less than child abuse.
LGBT teen suicide
To build the case, let’s look at LGBT teen suicide. We need to stop ignoring the fact that higher rates of LGBT teen suicide are correlated to anti-gay religious parenting. While it is difficult to determine the exact percentage of LGBT youth who attempt suicide relative to their non-LGBT counterparts, studies have clearly shown the incidence is much higher in LGBT youth. Further, it has been demonstrated that there is a direct correlation between high rates of suicide attempts in LGBT youth who are living in anti-LGBT households.
According to a San Francisco State University study, LGBT youth “who experience high levels of rejection from their families during adolescence (when compared with those young people who experienced little or no rejection from parents and caregivers) were more than eight times likely to have attempted suicide, more than six times likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times likely to use illegal drugs and more than three times likely to be at high risk for HIV or other STDs” by the time they reach their early 20s.
In this spirit, gay rights activist Dan Savage tweeted in reaction to Alcorn’s suicide, “We know that parental hostility & rejection doubles a queer kid’s already quadrupled risk of suicide—rejecting your queer kid is abuse.”
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