Nearly 50 honor the memory of Leelah Alcorn in St. Petersburg

By : Steve Blanchard
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St. Petersburg – Gibbs High School teens Gaylen Granby and Britney Waggott never knew Leelah Alcorn. But the suicide of the Ohio transgender teenager in December motivated the students to celebrate her life and try to help change the way transgender people are viewed by society.

They organized a candlelight vigil at Vinoy Park along St. Petersburg’s waterfront on Jan. 4 and nearly 50 people attended.

“We are just so happy that so many people came out,” said Waggott, 16, a junior. “We expected 10 friends to come out, light some candles and say something. And here we are with 40-plus people and I don’t know but a few of them.”

Those who attended—transgender and allies alike—took turns expressing their grief for Alcorn while sharing stories of their own struggles dealing with transgender issues.

One woman, who described herself as the proud mother of a transgender son, shared that she no longer speaks with her “very religious” sister because she disapproved of her nephew. Another member of the group talked about reparative therapy and how his parents tried to “fix” him when he was younger.

The stories were tough to hear for Granby, who is a lesbian and has the full support of her parents.

“I have grown up my entire life around other gay and lesbian families,” Granby said. “I was always raised by my parents that you are who you are and to get involved so others can understand the same thing.”

While neither young woman knew Leelah Alcorn personally, they say her death—and suicide note—have generated a sense of activism within them.

“The very last line of her note said that she won’t rest in peace until transgender people are accepted in their communities,” Granby said. “She’s right. It’s so unfortunate that she had to take her life in order for people to see this. But that’s what made me decide we needed to get the word out. We’re all here for one cause. We need change and we’re on this earth as one human family.”

Also in attendance was Tristan Byrnes, a gender therapist. Byrnes took a moment to speak to the group, which was formed in a large circle, but was quick to point out that he didn’t organize the event.

“I am thrilled that the younger generation is stepping up and doing things like this,” he told the group. “I had nothing to do with organizing this and was so excited when I learned about it. It shows that the next generation is ready to fight for equality and the transgender community has a voice in the future.”

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