Prizm News / November 1, 2018 / By Rebecca Huff
Volunteers gather at “Leelah’s Highway,” a stretch of I-71 near Kings Mills, where they clean up four times a year under the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway Program. (Photo courtesy of Chris Fortin via Facebook)

Creator of ‘Leelah’s Highway’ says the Ohio teen’s story ‘needed to be told.’

 

By Rebecca Huff

Leelah Alcorn was a 17-year-old Ohio girl trapped in the wrong body. She wanted acceptance, but what she received was isolation. She had one last request after committing suicide in 2014 on a highway in her hometown of Kings Mills.

“Fix society. Please.”

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Alcorn wrote in her suicide letter: “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… My death needs to mean something.”

Chris Fortin, who also lived in Kings Mills, responded by dedicating the highway where
she took her life as the Leelah Alcorn Memorial Highway.

Leelah Alcorn

As a member of the LGTBQ community, Fortin wanted not only to dedicate a highway in the transgender teen’s name but also to educate people on trans rights and the LGTBQ community in general.

To him, the highway is more than a stretch of land to keep clean.

“When people see her name along the highway, I hope they Google who she was, and I hope they see her picture and a news article and all this noise that has been made since she passed away in order to further her message,” he says.

It was Fortin’s dedicated highway that inspired Canadian filmmaker Elizabeth Littlejohn to write, produce and direct “Leelah’s Highway” a 24-minute documentary aimed at fulfilling Leelah’s last wish.

The film will be screened on Saturday, Nov. 10 at Cincinnati’s OutReels Film Festival. It’s among 23 features and shorts on the marquee for the three-day LGBTQ film festival, which runs Nov. 9-11.

“As a human rights activist who believes in the right for gender self-determination, I believe this story needed to be told,” Littlejohn says. “This is an unusual documentary in that Leelah made an explicit request that her loss was to mean something for greater society. As the director, I took this to heart.”

The documentary is told in Leelah’s perspective by weaving in her suicide note throughout the film. But it’s not merely a dramatization like “13 Reasons Why.” Extensive research provided support for the narrative, including interviews with neighbors, friends, professionals and Fortin.

“It needs to be seen by as many eyes as possible,” Fortin says. “I’m hoping that people at least add the word

transgender in an understanding way to their vocabulary and understand that it does exist and that trans people do matter.”

Littlejohn says the documentary also was made to support outreach efforts by the Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860) and Los Angeles Trans Wellness Center (mytranswellness.org).

Rebecca Huff is a freelance writer in Cincinnati. Follow her on Twitter at @ RebeccaHuff9.

Leelah’s Highway Trailer from Elizabeth Littlejohn on Vimeo.

FIND OUT MORE

Leelah’s Highway is a stretch of I-71 near Kings Mills, about 30 miles north of Cincinnati. It’s part of the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway program, and sponsors host four litter pickups yearly. Visit leelahhighway.org or follow @leelahhighway on Twitter for more information.

OutReels, the LGBTQ film festival in Cincinnati, takes place from Friday, Nov. 9 through Sunday, Nov. 11 at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, Cincinnati, 45204. Tickets are $10 per block of films or $50 for a weekend pass. Visit outreelscincy.org for details

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com