Relationship vs. Religion and What Leelah Alcorn’s Suicide Shows Us


I’ve been thinking about Leelah Alcorn a lot over the past few days. It saddens me to no end that yet another transgender person has felt so alone that she believed that her only release was death. I hate that it took her death for her to be seen as the woman that she was.

And I’ll be honest, I’ve been thinking about her mom a lot as well. Thinking about what it’s like to lose a child to suicide and to bear the weight of responsibility for that.

Carla Alcorn has been called a bully because she refused to recognize Leelah’s preferred gender. She continued to call her by her given name and in all interviews, continued to use male pronouns rather than female.

Often we have ideas about what bullying looks like. Name-calling, pushing, shoving, belittling. We see parents who kick their kids out of their home for coming out, sometimes under the advisement of church leaders. We see parents who physically abuse children who do not conform to the roles that they expect them to follow. In light of some of the violence that has been perpetrated against LGBTQ children from their parents, it can be harder to see misusing pronouns as bullying. It can be difficult to blame a parent who called their child by the name that they gave them rather than the one that they chose for themselves.

In an interview with CNN Carla stated, “We don’t support that, religiously. But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.”

That quote is the issue summed up so neatly.

I believe that Carla did love her child. But her quote shows very clearly that she did not love her unconditionally. She only loved her within the bounds of her religious beliefs. And those beliefs led her to act in ways that did not honor Leelah. Her religion got in the way of her relationship.

In her suicide note, Leelah wrote, “When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.(bolding mine)

Through all of my life, I’ve heard that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. In 1 John 4:20, John writes, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”

If your faith causes harm to relationships here, how can it not be classified as a religion? If your faith causes you to bully others, even if your bullying feels small, like voting against marriage equality or using pronouns contrary to what someone has asked you to use, how are you loving your brother or sister? If someone says to you, “don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid,” and you say it anyway, what kind of relationship are you showing to the world?

I want to have a relationship with God. But I can only develop that more if I’m developing relationships with those around me. And if I’m unable to genuinely love the least of these, especially if they are in my own family, I’m just practicing religion.

12 thoughts on “Relationship vs. Religion and What Leelah Alcorn’s Suicide Shows Us

  1. An interesting perspective. I do grieve the lose of yet another young person who certainly lived in a state of confusion and inner turmoil. As someone who has identified as a lesbian the majority of their life and actively engaged in the LGBT community; I understand the perception that all Christians are intolerant, uneducated and biased people.

    I do not that is true for a true follower of Christ and one who lives out the gospel in every aspect of their lives. I wonder though where Biblical perspective of sexuality and gender fits into encouraging others to embrace a gender other than one God created them with?

    It is an honest question and I am not looking to engage in an argument.

    1. I think that the discussion to be had is in what you mean by:

      “I wonder though where Biblical perspective of sexuality and gender fits into encouraging others to embrace a gender other than one God created them with?”

      How do you know whether or not God created Leela to be a woman? Everything Leela knew about her life and herself and her identity was that she was a girl. She knew she was a girl the second she understood what gender and sex can be.

      Gender essentialism is the argument that having a penis makes you man/male/masculine, and that having a penis means that you are required to conform to a masculine role, such as only having intercourse with someone who has a vagina and all the rest.

      Personally I don’t think it’s possible to reject only aspects of gender essentialist arguments while maintaining the premise that biological sex (which is not, by any means, split into the binary of penis vs. vagina) and gender identity are circumscribed by societallly-defined expectations.

  2. The epistle verse clashes with one that perhaps is more well known:

    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”

    There are some verses where division from family (including separation from spouses who are not believers) is raised as a positive. Focus on such sentiments can lead to some serious problems.

    As to “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion” — that’s interesting but not how I was taught. I think “religion” is being given a limited definition. But, I would not focus on that but on wider truths. The main text seems to be on the right path there.

  3. What disturbs me most about Leelah’s oppression by her parents is that it was all done in the name of Christianity. I consider myself Christian but would have behaved very differently in the Alcorn’s situation. Being Methodist we regularly embrace those who are LGBTQ and believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God including sexuality. Christians at one time thought it was right to slaughter those who were not Christian. It’s time we rethink our belief systems to prevent more tragedies from this happening. The LGBTQ community needs to know they are lovingly accepted by Christ and His followers.

  4. I believe that God is not the author of confusion, Satan is. If God knows every hair on our head, how could He confuse our sex?! I think his mother had unconditional love for her son, but she did not love the lifestyle. Just as you may love you father who is an alcoholic, but hate the alcoholism. Or love your mother who is a drug addict, but hate the drug abuse. You are correct that we should love our brothers and sisters, however it is also taught to hate the sin. “Religion” has become weak because we want to except and include everyone, but that is not what the Bible teaches. We are to minister what is right and what is wrong. It is up to the believer to follow the teachings.

    1. I can find nothing in the Scripture that indicates that being transgender is a sin. And over and over I believe we see Jesus accepting and including those who are cast out by the religious folks. Why we believe that we are more right to judge than the Christ is beyond me.

  5. Genesis 1:27…. God created TWO genders, male & female. Again, God does not make mistakes. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. talks about the perversion of sexuality, Romans 6: 24-32 goes more in depth.
    There is also a difference between unconditional love and acceptance. Romans 12:9. You can love someone unconditionally but not except the things that cause destruction in their life.

    1. That’s an oversimplified understand of “male and female.”

      Take, for example, the phrase that God is the “Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.” Does that mean that God is a binary, that God exists as only those two extremes? No, the way that’s meant to be understood is that God encompasses everything FROM the Alpha TO the Omega, FROM the Beginning TO the end.

      Everything in the Genesis passages reflects a similar spectrum. Morning and Evening. Dan and Night. Sea and Land. Space and Earth. God isn’t making only those two things, no God is making the *spectrum* of those things. He made dawn, sunrise, morning, day, afternoon, sunset, dusk, evening, night.

      The same spectrum can be understood in “male and female.” Considering that pretty much every single culture has recognized SOME kind of third gender or non-gender is evidence of this.

      1. I do agree that events happen between the beginning in order to have an end. However, your example of dawn, sunrise, morning, afternoon, dusk, and evening all describe different aspects of a DAY. Without a day, non of these other things exists. Just like there are many ways to describe a human, tall, skinny, short hair, brown eyes, pretty, but that person is still a human in its entity. Again, the devil is great at distorting God’s word. 1Peter 5:8 warns of the devils attacks.
        We will have to agree to disagree because I strongly believe that God does not make mistakes, nor is He the author of confusion. Everything on our body was created for an intended purpose. Not to get too graphic but a penis “fits” into a vagina properly, whereas a penis does not “fit” into an anus as well. Even the hormones and chromosomes produced in a male and female are clearly identified as being different.

      2. I agree God doesn’t make mistakes. I don’t believe that transgender is a mistake. It may not be the norm, like lefthandedness, but not a mistake. With genetics, there are all kinds of things that can deviate from XX or XY chromosomes.

        And if we want to get into what fits where, hands and mouths accommodate all kinds of things. Even with straight couples.

  6. I have one thing to say to those shouting with a Bible in their hand, “Put down the book, think for yourself and look into your heart and find love for another human being”.

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