Art as healing

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Sometimes I just have to stop and doodle to process a dark mood or get control of my stress. I never considered myself good at drawing until a friend gave me Wreck This Journal, which provided a much-needed outlet of creativity. Now, art is something I turn to. The physical act turns off the buzzing, harmful thoughts and lets me focus my energies on the single task of expression. I often find inspiration in words, like those featured in this sketch. Sorry for the poor quality, I hope to buy a good scanner soon.

“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

-Maya Angelou

I think this is a hopeful message to those of us who have suffered from mental illnesses. Sometimes our situation seems to consume all the light we have. It is important to remember that there are always paths back to control, back to light.

Do you use art to express yourself or heal? How does it help you?

The enduring inspiration of Anne Frank

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

I vaguely remember the first time I learned about the Holocaust in school–the concept was so huge that the numbers were unfathomable to my elementary-school mind. 6 million Jewish people. Over 1 million children. I looked around the room. My class probably had around 20 students. Numbers like this were beyond what I was capable of imagining. They were more like math, not people.

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It wasn’t until I read The Diary of a Anne Frank that the horror really sunk in. Stories tell us what statistics cannot, which is why it is so important to share ours with one another.

Reflecting on the importance of today led me to think about the idea of our collective identity.

Sometimes it still knocks the wind out of me–the idea that we live in a world where such a horrific event took place.  That some humans felt that they were so superior to others that they starved them, tortured them, raped them, and murdered them. Treated them as less than animal.

It can be hard to acknowledge that these things happened–and are happening–in our world.

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

Humanity’s violent past has its place in each of our individual identities. It is something we can’t ignore, but can hopefully come to terms with and become better for it. Our civilization was based on the conquering on others. When I deeply reflect on this, the history of human misery makes me sick. I am sure that I am here today because others have suffered during some other time. It is one of the many reasons why I feel a deep need to eradicate prejudices in myself and work for social justice.

“What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again.”

Can we overcome our origins and build a more peaceful and accepting future (even while violence still ravages parts of our world)?

I don’t know.

Looking out from the Anne Frank House.

Looking out from the Anne Frank House.

What I do know is that I find inspiration and pockets of hope almost every day. The eternal optimism of Anne Frank has been an inspiration throughout my life. Throughout the two years living in the Annex, she had fears and doubts but she never lost her faith that humanity was ultimately good.

Last summer, I backpacked through Europe on a sort of soul-searching quest and was able to visit the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House

It was smaller than I had imagined–the rooms cramped and dark. The magazine and newspaper clippings that Anne had glued to the walls were still there, as were the pencil markings that recorded the girls’ growing heights.

Anne was about as tall as me when the Nazis came for her.

She was real. Just like the millions of other people murdered because they were different from the approved norm.

Hearing the floor creak under my feet gave me a renewed sense of the horror that was WWII–not just because of the violence but because of the necessity people felt to hide their identities. Freedom is being seen. Freedom is the ability to be yourself. Have we created a truly “free” culture yet? No, but I hope we are getting closer.

FullSizeRender 31My experience also instilled in me this deep sense of hope, as if Anne and her optimism still inhabited some part of the place. Optimism nowadays seems to be rare. After all, there is much wrong with the world.

But that day, I left feeling grateful for the world as we know it. For the progress humanity has made and for my presence at this point in time.

Anne stole glimpses out the window and pined for freedom. Then, when she was finally given the sky, everything else in the world was taken from her.

“I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.”

Her experiences inspire me to stay present in the moment, appreciate small joys, and have big dreams. She helped shape my identity for the better. Today, let’s honor her and all who were taken in the Holocaust by remaining optimistic and striving to build a better world.

The sign-in book at the Anne Frank House.

The sign-in book at the Anne Frank House.

A few ways to advocate for gender equality

As I discussed in my previous post, gender discrimination is still alive and well pretty much every where you look in today’s world. It rears its ugly head in politics, in magazines, on television, in the office, on the street, even at your local bar. But what can we do about it? This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I hope you come away with a few concrete ways to take action on this issue.

Stand up for women in your everyday life: We all have moments when gender bias comes out amongst friends, at work, or when we are going about our daily errands. Consciously acknowledge and push back against these instances.

  1. Support women in your workplace. If you are a woman in a higher position at your company, reach out to them with kindness and offer encouragement or mentorship. We need to fight to change the idea that the other women in the office are competition–instead, let them be colleagues. Just the other day, I overheard three women gossiping about a co-worker. Two of the women were really digging in, insulting her actions and even accusing her of lying to get the job. This all stopped when the third woman spoke up and provided positive examples of how hard the woman in question in worked. Be the third woman.
  2. Find your voice at work. Even though studies show that women’s ideas get shut down more than men’s in the workplace, fight to get your points across. The study also shows examples of companies who started a “no-interruption” policy during meetings. The result? More satisfied employees and better collaboration between all staff members. If you are a man, support female co-workers by listening to and collaborating with them just as much as you would a male coworker.
  3. According to Missrepresentation, women hold 86% of purchasing power in America. How you spend your money matters. Boycott products (including movies) that objectify women and share your choices on social media with the hashtag #notbuyingit.

  4. Don’t put up with stereotypes or negative talk towards women. If you are a man, step up when you hear other men talk or treat women badly. If you are a woman–same thing. We need to stop judging and treating each other so harshly regardless of gender. You have the power to walk away from negative conversations.
  5. Be a model for the children or young adults in your life. As someone who works in schools, too many times I have heard kids make gendered statements. For example: “Girls can’t be pilots, they are the people who give out the drinks” (YES, this is something I actually overheard between a group of 6 year olds, so I stepped in). Step in where you can and model healthy interactions in your own relationships so that children can learn through observation.
  6. Consider donating to or getting involved in organizations who work towards gender equality. Here are a few to check out: Women in FilmSisters of Hope, Black Girls Rock!, Women Sports Foundation, Girls Who Code, Girls for a Change. Share in the comments more organizations you love!

Support more female representation in the media: This is hugely important because of the power media has over perception.

  1. Support female-driven movies by seeing them in theaters on opening weekend. The big studios still don’t believe that big numbers will turn out to see stories about women on screen. Prove them wrong by giving these movies your support. Opening weekend is important because studios base on lot of their decisions on how well a movie is received when it first come out. Showing up for a movie early in its release shows that it was highly anticipated. Big studio movies that star women this year? InsurgentJupiter RisingTomorrowland, and Mockingjay: Part Two.

    Stockholm, Pennsylvania. Directed by Nikole Beckwith. Photo by Aaron Epstein - © 2014 by Aaron Epstein

    Stockholm, Pennsylvania. Directed by Nikole Beckwith. Photo by Aaron Epstein – © 2014 by Aaron Epstein

  2. It is also important to support female directors and writers, which means being a smarter film consumer. Look into movie credits before the movie and seek out those with women behind the camera. Unfortunately only 4.4% of big studio movies are directed by women, so this feat might take a trip to an independent theater. Check out the this year’s Sundance favorites and get out there!
  3. Have you noticed that in news articles, female politicians are twice as likely than their male counterparts to be described in emotional terms? This has to stop. Call out biased journalism when you see it by commenting on the article or writing to the news source it came from. Most news websites have a ‘Contact Us’ section. Use it.
  4. Only 20% of news stories focus on women. Share your appreciation for positive media that empowers women via social media by using hashtag #MediaILike or #MediaWeLike. Hashtags hold power.They are tracked and analyzed by industries and the media. Use them wisely.
  5. Share your story. We need more quality narratives about women, by women.

In case you need some proof that one voice can change the world, here is Emma Watson’s latest speech supporting UN Women’s HeForShe campaign.

What do Kim Kardashian, the Oscars, and the State of the Union have in common?

This week, gender bias has been on my mind.

I guess it started when I (FINALLY) picked up Margaret At38447wood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a book that begins in our present culture and devolves into a dystopian society where women are once again treated as objects. They can serve one of two purposes: A) provide men sexual pleasure or B) become vessels of childbirth. I was riveted, fascinated, horrified, and yet it also made me reflect on our own culture, which still pretty much portrays women in these roles. Despite whatever Alanis Morissette sang about female identity, on TV and in movies a woman is typically still either the wife or the femme fatale.

So, this book really got me thinking. And then other recent events seemed to echo the issue of gender discrimination: the Oscar nominations, the State of the Union address, and HeForShe’s launch of a new initiative called ACTION 10X10X10 all, in their own way, highlighted the challenges women face both in America and abroad.

On Monday, I found myself glued to the TV screen for the State of the Union address. To be completely honest, I felt heartbroken when half of our nation’s representatives refused to applaud or stand for President Obama’s following statement: “Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time.”

Watching not only Speaker John Boehner, but most (if not all) of our Republican representatives* refuse to acknowledge this statement infuriated me. It spoke volumes to how women are still perceived and what roles many people believe they should follow.

To me, it said “we don’t think you deserve it.” It said that men are better than women. It said that boys rule, girls drool. The end.

Dramatic? Yes, but so was their gesture.

Naturally, this gave me an itch to parade. So I spent the rest of the week exploring the social injustices that women still experience, on a grand scale, in America today.

I found a few:

  1. There is a huge disparity in how women’s opinions are valued in the workplace.
  2. Women make up 51% of the US population… but make up only 20% of Congress.
  3. Women earn less than their male counterparts in almost every occupation.
  4. Women make up 3% of leadership positions in the mainstream media.
  5. Women make up only 30% of speaking roles in movies and on television (see also here and here).
  6. Despite the fact that 60% of US working women are mothers, we have no national policy towards paid maternity leave, and that of the 185 countries and territories analyzed by the International Labor Organization, only one other country didn’t offer benefits to women having children (Papua New Guinea, in case you were wondering).

Let’s just say I found more discrimination than could be easily put into a list. What I began to wonder was, why do we, as a society, put up with this? Just like in The Handmaid’s Tale, it seems that our culture has taken this mantra of “this is the way it is.” But it doesn’t have to be.

Yep, her.

Yep, her.

I began to think about the systems of power over our culture. I began to think about Kim Kardashian.

Stay with me.

We live in a world bombarded with media. Young girls have to make sense of the 500 air-brushed-to-perfection advertisements they come across every day. To them, the cat-fights of reality tv and the superficial woes of Kim Kardashian provide a model for behavior. The Girl Scout Research Institute conducted a study that showed that 75% of teen girls believe reality tv to be unscripted, real-world experiences. To me, reality tv is something to laugh at and occasionally indulge in to turn my brain off. The idea that young girls take it seriously is frightening, especially considering the other ways that women are represented on tv and in film.

Our culture gets most of its assumptions from the media; Movies, television, the news, and even commercials, provide a model for the world—but it just so happens to be an inaccurate one when it comes to female representation.

According to the study “Gender Bias Without Borders,” only 30.9% of speaking roles in movies and television are women—despite the fact that, you know, women make up half of our world’s population. The study also revealed that female characters were twice as likely as male characters to wear sexually revealing clothing, five times as likely to receive on-screen comments about their appearance, and were less likely to portray a person with job. Real women are literally missing from the scenes. The stirring documentary, Missrepresentation, (available on Netflix!) reveals that only 16% of film protagonists are female. Translation? Stories about women are not worth telling.

And let’s go ahead and think about the protagonists we are given. I can think of two types of characters: the woman looking for love and the sexy but bad-ass female warrior. Make no mistake–both of these characterizations continue to show that the purpose of woman is to find and please a man. Don’t get me wrong. As a girl who grew up very much a tomboy, I tend to like badass female characters, but to me, most of them seem just as one-dimensional as the damsel in distress. Just an excuse to have a girl in some tight leather–a dominatrix of sorts. I mean, for every Brienne on Game of Thrones it seems like we have ten of Halle Berry’s Catwoman.

More of well-rounded characters like her please!

More of well-rounded characters like her please!

This message even continues into cartoon movies, where it is especially harmful to young girls. As Geena Davis reminds us, “Between 1937 and 2005 there were only 13 female protagonists in animated movies. All of them, except one, had the aspiration of finding romance.”

Is that one in thirteen Mulan (my favorite Disney girl)? I don’t know, but thankfully, in the past ten years since this comment, animated roles have shown progress for girls. Brave’s Merida rejected the men who came to court her and competed for her own independence, while Frozen’s Elsa struggled to understand her identity (though admittedly, her sister, Anna, was boy-craaaazy). Both movies, by the way, had female directors. Hmm…female directors create well-rounded female characters, who knew? And it’s true that we are seeing more women featured in big box office movies roles that attempt to defy female stereotypes—most recently Katniss of The Hunger Games, who is both vulnerable and strong.

But overall, movies continue to leave out women. Every movie I watch, I measure up to the Bechdel Test, which is just about as basic as it could possibly be in recognizing that women are humans. All a movie has to do to pass is have two women talk to each other about something other than men.

Pretty easy right?5540832_orig

Wrong (according to Hollywood). I’d like to say that more movies have passed this year, but out of this year’s Best Picture Oscar noms, only TWO pass the Bechdel Test (SelmaBoyhood). TWO. But is this surprising when every nominated film this year is male-centric? Let that sink in.

In my opinion, Gone Girl and Wild more than deserve a nod, but with a 76% male Academy, I guess this is what happens.

“Hollywood is based on the assumption that women will watch stories about men, but men won’t watch stories about women.”

—Geena Davis.

So what about the women behind the camera?

Well, let’s just say that recognized female film directors remain as rare as Melville’s white whale. Which brings me back to the Oscars. Am I surprised that no female directors or writers received Oscar nominations this year? Sadly, no.

Most people know that the Academy is mostly men but what is lesser known is that the individual categories can only be voted on by Academy members that are also peers in that category. Looking at it this way, the likelihood of a female nomination diminishes even further: the screenwriting branch is 81% male while the directors branch is 91%. With those blindingly unbalanced figures, it would be more newsworthy if they had recognized Ava DuVerny (Director, Selma) or Gillian Flynn (Writer, Gone Girl). After all, only four women have ever been nominated in the category of Best Director, and only one, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), has ever taken home the statue. 

The snubs reflect the reality of Hollywood, where women continue to struggle to achieve parity on a daily basis. And it’s not that women aren’t interested in directing. According to the New York Times, they are “well represented” in film schools percentages across the country. So what happens?

Sexism and money, plain and simple.

Though female directors fare pretty well in independent movies, as the amount of money needed for a film rises, it becomes more likely that it will be put into the hands of a man. According to Martha M. Lauzen’s research in “The Celluloid Ceiling,” a data-analysis of 2012’s top 250 domestic grossing films, women directors represented only 9%.

“Their [the six major studios] refusal to hire more female directors is immoral, maybe illegal, and has helped create and sustain a representational ghetto for women.”

—Manohla Dargis, “Lights, Camera, Taking Action,” New York Times

Again, in Missrepresentation, director Catherine Hardwicke described the many times she has been turned down for the job because she was told the content needed a man’s vision. So she turned to female-driven narratives instead, ultimately directing Twilight, which proved that audiences would come in droves to see a movie with a female protagonist. But when the movie became a blockbuster and smashed box office records—SURPRISE—the sequel films were immediately put in the hands of male directors.

Hardwicke bitterly reflects that even though Hollywood deems women unequipped to direct male-driven movies, males often direct films about women. When I looked into this statement, I found she was right. All of the following movies were directed by men: Sex and the City, Eat Pray Love, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Bridesmaids, Easy A, The Hunger Games, Divergent . . . the list goes on.

And for the record, let’s put the “women-can’t-direct-male-movies” idea to rest. I MEAN—Stop-Loss, Big, Zero Dark Thirty, Point Break, American Pyscho—ANYONE? But, I digress.

The point is: if more women were at the helm in movies and television, as directors and writers, our media would get closer to projecting reality and could create a healthier view of gender for young women and men to follow. It would show a world closer to our own. Perhaps it would even lead some voices to wonder why women are so underrepresented in politics.

The good news?

thelma-and-louise

Geena Davis: our hero.

Women are fighting back in Hollywood. Fed up with the way Hollywood showcases gender roles to young children, Geena Davis created the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which provides research-based efforts that educate the world on gender bias occurring in the media and fight for the need to reduce gender stereotyping. Gamechanger Films also works to put out more female-driven stories by providing the funding that nearly every female director struggles to find from studios. Women in Film works to promote equal opportunities for women in media through education, scholarships, and grants. And of course, the HeForShe movement, championed by Emma Watson, is gaining ground with their campaign for both genders to embrace feminism.

And we can help too. Knowing the issue is the first step. But you can act to help accurate female representation in the media become a reality. Check back soon under the “Action” tab to find out how.

*Please Note: This was my observation during the speech and that I do not wish this blog to to be a place of Democrats vs. Republicans, but rather an exploration into the aspects of identity, diversity, and injustice in our culture, open to anyone, regardless of their political party affiliation.

Ellen responds to hate the RIGHT way

Humor. Honesty. Positivity.

When the haters hate, it is so tempting to throw hate right back at them. I myself have certainly fallen into the trap of this in the past. When you are deeply emotionally invested in a subject it can be hard not to. But there are better avenues to take that won’t result in elevated blood pressure.

Whatever you do, don’t feed the troll. Haters love to get emotional reactions from their targets. Getting all heated up and responding back negatively will only feed their sense of power and likely encourage them to continue to bother you.

This doesn’t mean keep silent. Don’t let someone else’s problems take away your voice.

Here Ellen show us a perfect way to stay true to yourself and respond appropriately in situations like this.

She is calm, cool, and collected. She addresses the negative statements with class (no reverse trash-talk). She comes from a place of openness and honesty. She promotes positive aims and shines light on the good causes that drive her instead of letting the hate rule the conversation.

Thanks Ellen, for being our model this week.

Je suis tout le monde

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”

Walt Whitman

So says much of France and people across the world this week with the declaration “Je Suis Charlie.”

“Je Suis Charlie” has become the uniting phrase that the French have clung to in the wake of the terrorist attacks that began in the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. These three words have been splashed across signs, newspapers, Twitter, and have even been taken up by George Clooney, who solemnly spoke them during the Golden Globes.

Why is this statement so powerful?

Just like the quote from Whitman, “Je Suis Charlie” expresses the idea that an attack on one person is felt by aje_suis_charlie_fist_and_pencilll. It is at once an expression of empathy and defiance, mourning those lost while also defending free speech and expressing patriotism. This past Sunday, over a million people marched together in Paris to show their unity and strength, while about 3.7 marched countrywide. “Je Suis Charlie” was the cry of the day.

However, some fear that the phrase is more divisive than it is unifying. After all, it is no secret that Charlie Hebdo was a magazine that offended many people. Does that justify the staff’s brutal murder?–of course not. But it does create complicated feelings for those who did not support the magazine before the shootings now that “Je Suis Charlie” has become the slogan associated with the terrorist acts.

In his op-ed, “I am not Charlie” David Brooks claims that the magazine would have never been tolerated in the U.S. because of its “hate speech.”  Indeed, Anthony Faiola, reporting for The Washington Post,  reveals that many French Muslims have felt ostracized by the phrase, “By putting the publication on a pedestal, they insist, the French are once again sidelining the Muslim community, feeding into a general sense of discrimination that, they argue, helped create the conditions for radicalization in the first place.”

It is a catch-22 for French Muslims–either embrace the “Je Suis Charlie” movement, despite the fact that the magazine regularly made fun of their religion, or remain silent and risk being seen as sympathetic towards the extremists.

Instead, many have found comfort in the story of Ahmed Merabet, the police officer who was murdered when responding to the initial scene at the magazine’s office. He was also a Muslim and died at the hands of those who “share” his religion. His death illustrates the vast differences between the majority of practicing Muslims, who are just regular citizens interacting positively with society, and the extremists at the fringe, who interpret Islam’s teachings in ways that justify murder and terrorist acts. “Je Suis Ahmed” is now heard alongside Charlie, telling the story of a Muslim who not only worked to defend his country but who also died trying to protect those who had insulted his own religion.

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
-Voltaire

Whether you use #JeSuisCharlie” or #JeSuisAhmed, it remains clear that people everywhere must continue to come together against terrorism and push back against stereotyping or alienating others.

Even as I write this, reports of a foiled terrorist plot in Belgium and a cyber attack on more than 19,000 French websites rule the news outlets. And then there is the lack of media coverage of Boko Haram’s devastating attacks in Nigeria. Some reports claim that the terrorist group massacred over 2,000 people last week, though the Nigerian government has downplayed the event, reporting the death toll at 150. The difficulties that the media faces when covering the area are frustrating, but there is no excuse for how little this horrific event was covered.

Even last weekend, as the French were preparing to march in their solidarity against terrorism, a ten year old girl was used to deploy a suicide bomb, killing 19 in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri. Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of central Nigeria has asked those in the West to show his country solidarity as they did for France, “We need that spirit to be spread around.”

Though Baga is a not a place where we can march, the least we can do is give this tragedy the same attention as events that occur closer to home. Many people have tried to raise awareness of the attack with the hashtags #BagaTogether or #WeAreAllBaga.

We live in a global society and can no longer ignore atrocities that occur, even if we feel helpless. Even if we are separated by distance, nationality, or race.  Knowledge is empowerment–it is taking ownership of your role on this earth by engaging with current events.

Je suis tout le monde.

Though I initially cringed at the hashtag trend of raising awareness for causes or tragic events, I now see it as just another way to share our knowledge with others and show our solidarity via social media. Parade when you can but listen, observe, share, and remember when you cannot.

Pink for Leelah

Leelah_Alcorn

Photo via Leelah’s tumblr http://lazerprincess.tumblr.com/

Make no mistake, a fingernail can be a parade.

There is a new hashtag trend that is taking over Facebook and Tumblr–#pinkforleelah. It is a movement to honor 17 year old Leelah Alcorn, who took her own life and posted her suicide letter to tumblr for the world to take note. To participate, simply paint your ring finger pink on January 6th to raise awareness of both Leelah’s tragedy and, as she wished, call attention to the discrimination of trans people.

If you haven’t read the note yet…it is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, Leelah’s personal tumblr was recently deleted, probably at the hands of her parents, but the note lives on across the internet. You can also find the full text of the note here and in case any of you doubt the truth of this story, here as well. If you have a tumblr you can easily find it reblogged thousands of times over. In fact, the tumblr community has exploded in support of Leelah, with new tribute  pages popping up with nearly every refresh, dedicated to remembering her as she wished to be remembered–as a beautiful woman.

Leelah Alcorn’s birth certificate tells a different story of her identity. On paper, she was a boy named Josh. To her parents, that was that. Despite bravely coming out to them as a trans-person, they rejected her identity and, according to Leelah’s writings, began a series of harmful actions that led her to severe depression, including taking her out of school and isolating her for five months from her friends.

The saddest thing, to me, is that at 17, Leelah was so close to reaching an age where she could get out from under her parents’ oppressive beliefs and seek a more supportive community. But to her, the reality of entering adulthood, completely unsupported by her family and lacking her once-close friends, was horrific to imagine.

Since her tumblr post, additional posts from Leelah have been found on reddit, titled I’m sure someone on here can convince me not to kill myself and Is this considered abuse? Though the content of the first post has been removed, her responses to commenters remain below (for now). Many redditors did their best to convince her that her living was worth living, but her depression continued to drip from every sentence.

When asked what she was looking forward to when she turned eighteen she replied:

“I’m not looking forward to anything. My life is only going to get harder.”

In the next thread, she asks for help, wondering if her parents’ actions toward her qualify as abuse. There are so many aspects of these posts that are chilling, but this excerpt is perhaps the most tragic (emphasis added):

“The way I feel when I talk to my parents and the way my parents treat me like I’m subhuman and that my feelings aren’t valid all make me think that I’m going through abuse, but I don’t know if it counts or not.”

Though many redditors did comment and provide their support, it wasn’t enough to counteract the years of emotional abuse she experienced from those who were supposed to love her the most. To her parents, Leelah Alcorn’s emotions were invalid and her pain, irrelevant. But that Josh Alcorn, they loved and fought for him. His mother even expressed her sorrow to CNN, by stating, “But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son.”

Too bad her son didn’t exist. She could have worked to build a wonderful relationship with her daughter. I don’t mean to diminish the pain that Leelah’s family is going through. Nothing will bring her back. But the ideology her family used made her feel worthless. This is what I take issue with.

Subhuman.

I can’t stop coming back to that word. To me, this word comprises the root of discrimination and provides the answer to why we still do not have social equality. The idea that some people matter more than others, as if we can quantify every individual’s net worth by the race, gender, sexual orientation, spiritual affiliation, etc., needs to be eradicated once and for all. The reality is that our present society makes beautiful souls like Leelah feel unworthy of life. Is there a bigger indicator of needed change than that?

Leelah hoped her death would mean something.

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights.”

In one of her reddit posts, Leelah typed a simple request:

“Please help me…”

Though we couldn’t help her then, we can help her now by taking action to bring her final dream to life.

A change.org petition has racked up 277,140 signatures in the hopes of enacting “Leelah’s Law,” a bill that would ban the harmful practice of conversion therapy, already banned in Washington, D.C., California, and New Jersey. You can sign the petition to protect the gender identity of children nationwide from this emotionally damaging and ineffective practice.

Whether you paint a nail pink, sign the petition, or simply make Leelah’s story a part of tomorrow’s conversation–don’t be afraid to parade around. There are teens like Leelah who need to hear you.

For more information on how to prevent suicide or fight for the rights of trans-people, check out Human Rights CampaignAmerican Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and  The Guardianwhich has compiled an excellent list of resources for trans-people and those who love them.