I will never forget the stunning image of Matthew Shepard’s hate crime. A young beautiful human was beaten, tortured and left for dead in an unthinkable violation. It shocked me when I saw the images, and I was not alone. Matthew’s fate left and indelible impression that has become part of our collective culture to this day.
This week, another tragedy, another life destroyed, left a similar impression — the death of Leelah Alcorn.
One of the publishers I work with sent me a quick message on New Years Eve. “You might want to write one of your ‘Gay Dad’ letters to the parents of this teen.” It was Leelah’s story. She was known to her family as “Joshua,” and she had killed herself.
A pre-published letter appeared online. In the letter she eloquently explained why she was going to end her life in more emotional detail. While certainly many other young people had ended their lives before her, Leelah’s account of what she had endured was unprecedented.
In doing so, Leelah transformed from the latest tragedy to one that emblazed into the consciousness of a mass audience. Her plead to “make her death matter” resonated.