Late last year, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn made headlines after she stepped out into oncoming traffic along Interstate 71 near her Ohio home. Her death by suicide came with a note, posted automatically to her Tumblr account in the hours after her passing. In response, Alcorn’s name made international headlines, hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions in support of her, she was mentioned during the Golden Globe Awards telecast, and she became the most talked about transgender person of the past six months. Why did Leelah’s story, in particular, catch the world’s attention, and not any of the other trans people's lost to suicide?
Why is it that in the first few weeks of 2015, we’ve watched as trans women of color have been murdered at a rate of roughly one per week, and yet the media can’t be bothered to recognize this violence for what it is—an epidemic? I think I know the answer, and while it’s a hard truth to swallow, it’s something we must address head-on: Leelah was White, came from a middle-class family, and had media-friendly looks and skill with words.
When you look at the stories of those like Islan Nettles, Zoraida Reyes, Yazmin Vash Payne, or Penny Proud, the pattern is impossible to ignore. Yes, these women were all victims of violence, either by homicide or suicide; but unlike Leelah, the other victims were women of color, and if the dearth of media attention is any indication, less valuable to society.