Taylor Alesana, a transgender teen in California who spoke out about being bullied, committed suicide last week. (Photo: xxtayloralesanaxx/Instagram)
A 16-year-old transgender teen who found popularity with her makeup tutorial videos on YouTube has committed suicide.
Taylor Alesana, a student at Fallbrook High School in California, had spoken out on YouTube recently about loneliness and the bullying she was experiencing at school. In a video posted in December, she revealed she was going to live publicly as a boy for a while. “I’ve had a very hard last couple of weeks,” she said. “I had to go back in the closet and dress like a boy and cut my nails off and cut my hair off. I did this for my own protection. I was being bullied a lot at school.”
In the video, titled “Update! *Sad*,” Alesana described incidents of harassment by other students, and said she did not feel safe at school. “When you’re a kid, parents always tell you sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you,” she said. “To me that’s not true. Words hurt, and words turn up to threats and threats turn up to physical violence.”
Alesana encouraged transgender teens in similar situations to go to their school administrators or to the police if necessary. “Do whatever you can to protect yourself,” she said. And while she said she would never let the bullies win, she felt she had to dress like a boy for the foreseeable future. “When … the bullies get better and they quit, and when the world changes – which it is changing everyday – when everything gets safer and people learn to accept trans people for who they are, then definitely, I will come back out. I will come back out with my heels a’blazin. My huge dresses on, some nice hair, I will, I promise I will.”
16-year-old transgender high schooler Taylor Alesana revealed that bullies at school were making her feel unsafe. (Photo: xxtayloralesanaxx/Instagram)
Fallbrook High School released a statement on their website, acknowledging a student’s death but not naming Alesana. “One of Fallbrook High School’s students tragically passed away during the spring break, on Thursday, April 2. We are attempting to honor the family’s request for privacy while also helping our students and staff who have been impacted by this sad event. The district has had counselors on site to support our school community. Fallbrook High has a continuum of appropriate services (social, emotional, academic) to ensure every student is supported and successful at Fallbrook High School. It is never easy when something like this happens, but we are working to move forward together and stronger than before. Thank you for helping us support the student’s family during this difficult time.”
Alesana had been seeking support at the North County LGBTQ Resource Center, where a memorial was hosted on Thursday evening, April 10. “There were hundreds of people that showed up,” Max Disposti, the founder and executive director of the center, tells Yahoo Parenting. “The stories that kids shared about themselves, about Taylor, about how much she suffered, were heartbreaking.”
Devastation of the young girl’s tragic death was expressed on Twitter with the hashtag #hernamewasTaylor. “How many more trans suicides are going to happen when we need to realize that more action is needed to protect trans ppl,” wrote @barelylocal. “She was becoming herself and it’s terrible how other people couldn’t accept that,” added @sostratusfying. And from @TBIQueer, “We ALL have a responsibility to make this word safer for trans people. Make noise. Encourage change.”
Unfortunately, Alesana didn’t find that support at school, Disposti says. “Taylor was very outspoken. She was one of those teens who was very vocal about how she felt. She was amazing. I am just really sad,” he says. “Every day she went to school it was a tragedy for her. She started breaking inside, and felt ‘wherever I go, this is going to be the same.’”
Disposti says schools should use the tragedy as an opportunity to educate teachers on how to protect transgender youth. “We need to teach our educators about how to handle circumstances like these, and how to intervene. Because the worst thing we can do is not say anything and that’s what happened here,” he says. “If at the beginning of every year, every teacher in every classroom told students ‘we don’t tolerate discrimination based on physical handicaps, race, gender, sexual orientation,’ for LGBT that would be powerful, because even if they aren’t out, they will know their school won’t tolerate bullying. There are tools we already have to prevent these tragedies from happening, and school is where kids spend most of their time.”
Sarah McBride, a transgender advocate and research associate at the Center for American Progress, says Alesana’s death should underscore the urgency with which lessons of tolerance should be taught. “When a person finally has the courage to say this is who I am, and society is not there to welcome them with open arms, it is so tragic. Especially when it is someone so young who has their entire life ahead of them, ” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “This isn’t something that can just wait. When lives are at stake there needs to be immediate action.”
McBride says schools need to start embracing open conversations in the classroom.
“The harassment and the bullying that students face is a learned behavior. There are affirmative steps that districts can take to be sure they are combatting that type of prejudice and bias,” she says. “As a country and a community we need to not be afraid to talk about these issues openly in our schools in a way that is inclusive and affirming.”
In that December YouTube video, Alesana closed with a sentiment for other teens in her situation that is especially poignant in light of her death. “My view on life is be who you are, take risks, just be yourself,” she said. “And don’t let anyone bring you down. “