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Transgender teen's suicide: New tragedy, old advocacy script for media

Transgender teen's suicide: New tragedy, old advocacy script for media

"My death needs to mean something," the teen who self-identified as Leelah Alcorn wrote in a suicide note before stepping in front of a tractor-trailer in Ohio. Whatever else the death of the troubled transgender youth means, one is clear: how easily mainstream media fall into groupthink.

Most outlets reporting this story use "Leelah," his preferred name, and call him a her. Some even seem reluctant to say "Joshua," the name on his birth certificate. Most quote friends but don’t try to reach his parents or clergy. Then they quote a transgender advocate or two who predictably call for some sort of change.

It's a familiar script from years of gay and lesbian advocacy, thinly disguised as reporting.

The Boston Globe's story is a prime example:

Early Sunday, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn died after being hit by a tractor-trailer while walking along a stretch of Interstate 71 near her Ohio hometown.
The death was eventually ruled a suicide after a pair of social media posts, which the Kings Mill woman posted on the blogging site Tumblr, garnered notice and served as a flashpoint for transgender progress in 2014.

Only about a third of the way down does the story acknowledge that Alcorn’s mother, Carla, "posted a short note to Facebook identifying Alcorn as 'Joshua' (her name at birth) and with male pronouns." That's the only place the Globe uses his actual teen name, or a male pronoun.

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