Schools must do more to combat bullying after transgender teen kills self in California, experts say

A California transgender teen girl who spoke on YouTube about being bullied at school killed herself, a support group said Friday, raising questions about what educators can and should do to support students who change gender identity.

Taylor Alesana was picked on by peers before taking her life last week, the North County LGBTQ Resource Center said.

"With few adults to turn to, and with no support from her school, her life became too difficult," the group said. "Taylor was a beautiful and courageous girl, and all she wanted was acceptance."

Alesana attended meetings at the center and was very supportive of others, Max Dispoti, the group’s executive director, said. She posted online videos that included makeup tutorials and accounts of her struggles.

In her first video posted in October, she said bullying began at a San Diego-area middle school when she disclosed that she was bisexual.

"I fear for anyone that's even just a little bit different. They know what bullying is like," she said.

Alesana said she was “living my life as a girl now,” upon moving to Fallbrook, a town 70 miles south of San Diego. She started wearing female clothes on the weekends and during the summer. She eventually found friends at Fallbrook High School despite encountering rejection at first.

"I made a couple (friends), went from group to group. The group would usually kick me out after they realized, 'Oh, you're different. We can't have you hanging out with us,'" she said.

Alesana had a strong relationship with her school counselor but administrators "didn't take the necessary steps," Disposti said. They never contacted his organization, even after a Thursday night vigil at his Oceanside office that was attended by Alesana's family and about 200 others, he said.

Fallbrook Union High School District Superintendent Hugo Pedroza said in a statement the student died tragically April 2.

"It is never easy when something like this happens, but we are working to move forward together and stronger than before," he said.

Experts have urged schools to train staff to be alert to bullying and instill in students that it is unacceptable. Schools are also urged to acknowledge any of their own biases.

"The fears that students have of transgender youth actually stem from adults," said Dorothy Espelage, professor of educational psychology at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. "If you're not going change the attitude of the adults, you're not going to change the attitudes of the kids."

Alesana is the second transgender teen who sought services at the North County LGBTQ Resource Center to die by suicide since March, Disposti said. A boy who took his life last month had a supportive environment at home and school, but he struggled with other issues, including his mother's death.

Alesana was unusually vocal about the challenges of being a transgender teen. An effort to reach her family through Disposti was unsuccessful.

"She was very outspoken and had incredibly positive energy," Disposti said. "She was helping others as she was struggling."

The Associated Press contributed to this report