Tragedy in Cincinnati

Tragedy in Cincinnati

When she stepped in front of a truck on Interstate-71, just a stone’s throw from her home in a Cincinnati suburb, Leelah Joshua Alcorn brought the world’s attention to one of the ugliest realities of American religion – how the Evangelical church treats transgender people. Her parents have been vilified in the press and social media. Doug and Carla Alcorn did what they had been instructed to do. They attempted to show love in the way their church taught by refusing to accept what they believed to be sinful behavior. As a result, they will agonizingly scrutinize their actions for the remainder of their lives.

The Alcorns are likely to respond in one of two ways. Either they will dig in their heals and blame secular society for bringing about their child’s death, or they will slowly and painfully come to realize their misguided spiritual understanding has brought about the most tragic of consequences. I hope it is the later. The Alcorns can eventually forgive themselves for being human and tragically wrong. There is no hope for the other option – unbridled arrogance. Most evil in the world is perpetrated by those stridently convinced they are absolutely right.

I do have sympathy for the Alcorns. At some place deep within they must know they horribly mishandled their troubled child. I can only imagine their anguish. But I wonder about their ministers, the Christian counselor who saw their child, and the church leaders who guided them. Are any of those people spending sleepless nights questioning their actions? They should be.

I imagine Leelah’s counselor’s education on transgender issues was virtually nonexistent. Through a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate in pastor care, I never heard one single word about Gender Dysphoria or any other DSM diagnosis related to gender. I know of only one Evangelical counseling program in the nation that has done significant work on Gender Dysphoria, and they have come to significantly different conclusions than those evidently provided to the Alcorn family.

A pastor or counselor unacquainted with Gender Dysphoria has one single moral imperative when someone presents as transgender – to show compassion and immediately make a referral to a professional acquainted with this complex reality. If Leelah’s counselor was as unprepared as I suspect, he or she should be sued for malpractice. Too often the law protects Christian counselors and pastors based on religious exemptions to applicable laws. Such misguided protection should end.

I am well acquainted with the religious fellowship that included the Alcorn’s church. Their senior pastor received his master’s degree from the same seminary from which I received one of my degrees. The church is a part of a movement of churches woefully ignorant about Gender Dysphoria. And as often happens with religion, what we do not understand we categorically reject. The tragedy in southern Ohio is testament to the efficacy of such a response.

I have been rejected by a branch of the same movement of churches of which the Alcorns were a part. I was a national leader who preached in scores of megachurches. When I came out as transgender I knew what to expect. Sadly, there were no surprises. Still, the rejection was devastating. As I have written before, there is a reason 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide. But I was an adult. I had resources. Leelah did not, and that made all the difference.

For the love of God, open your eyes to our children with Gender Dysphoria. Since I came out as transgender I have heard from the Christian parents of numerous transgender children. Thank God they came to me. I hope I hear from many more. These children need help their church is not prepared to give.

It is devastating when you realize you are transgender. Nobody asks for this – nobody! And the last thing you need is to hear what I heard from one of my own board members, “This seems rather self-indulgent.” When your alternative has been reduced to suicide, is a person self-indulgent when they decide to remain alive? Hardly. I can excuse the ignorance of our board member. I expected it and had the resources to handle it. But what Leelah heard from her parents, counselors, and church leaders was far more than she could bear. She was already carrying a burden you cannot begin to understand, unless you too are transgender. The counsel she received took that burden to a place no human can bear. Shame on those who drove her there.

Doug and Carla Alcorn were only doing what they had been instructed to do. God have mercy on those who taught them. God have mercy on those who counseled the Alcorn family to take actions whose ends were far, far too predictable.