As a 16-year-old sophomore at Porter Ridge High School, Ash Haffner had been struggling with gender identity since the eighth grade.
Ash committed suicide Feb. 26 by running in front of traffic on Poplin Road, just a block from the transgender teen’s suburban home in the Union County town of Indian Trail.
Ash’s mother, April Quick, said Ash went back and forth a lot in the past year about whether to identify as male or female. That is why Quick continues to use the words “daughter” and “she.” But she doesn’t object if others call Ash “he.”
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In response to online critics who blamed Ash’s death on Quick’s use of the female pronoun, Quick shared a handwritten note that Ash wrote in the past year:
“he? she? it? thing? i’m just as confused as you are. don’t be so quick jumping to labels. my pronouns do not define me. but when you ask me if i’m a boy or a girl, i don’t know how to answer. i haven’t even identified yet so just leave me alone and call me Ash.”
A picture of Ash from the eighth grade formal shows a girl with shoulder-length hair wearing a turquoise dress for a date with a boy. But a few months later, Quick said Ash came out as a lesbian and confided there was a girlfriend.
In ninth grade, Ash asked to be referred to as a boy, Quick said, and they even talked about changing names. Instead of Ashlyn Alexis, it would be Ashton Alexander. But a week or so later, Quick said Ash changed her mind.
“She was trying to figure out her identity,” Quick said. “She felt like a boy trapped in a girl’s body. She was caught somewhat in between. People weren’t really giving her the time to figure herself out. ... All she wanted was for people to just accept her.”
In more recent pictures, Ash has short hair and is wearing baggy pants or cargo shorts and flannel shirts. It was after the haircut that Quick said the bullying increased. More than once, she and Ash were walking in public when a group of snickering girls could be overheard asking, “Is that a girl or is that a boy?”
In 10th grade, Ash stopped changing clothes for gym class because other girls had objected that they were uncomfortable being in the same locker room.
Quick said she was always supportive of Ash. They attended last year’s Charlotte Pride parade together. “I didn’t judge her at all,” Quick said.
They had also talked about the Dec. 28 suicide of Ohio teen Leelah Alcorn, and Quick said Ash “didn’t understand why parents didn’t accept children for who they were.”
Ash had been bullied by both youths and adults. The mother of one of Ash’s girlfriends refused to allow her daughter to see Ash because she was afraid Ash would “turn her daughter gay,” Quick said.
She blames the accumulation of hurts, not just one incident, for Ash’s death. Quick didn’t find a suicide note, but she later learned that Ash had sent text messages to several friends on the night of Feb. 25 indicating her plans. “I’m done. I’m ready to die,” Quick said, quoting the texts.
After a call from one of those friends, Quick frantically ran through the house and into the yard searching for Ash. When she noticed a commotion and headlights on the road, she ran and found Ash lying near the curb, having been struck by a Jeep. She died early the next morning, Feb. 26, at Carolinas Medical Center.
Quick frequently shares Ash’s writings and songs on the “Do It For Ash” Facebook page, hoping she’ll inspire others.
“She’d be the first one to tell you, ‘Don’t let society bring you down,’” Quick said. “It just kills me that she couldn’t take her own advice.”
A note from Ash’s iPad...
“if I die…I don’t want to be remembered as the faggot gay girl with all the scars on her arm. unfortunately thats who I am to alot of people. if those people would have just stayed silent and kept their ignorant thoughts in their heads then maybe i wouldn’t have those scars on my arm. maybe. it wasn’t always about what they had in their heads, it was what was inside of mine to. i just didn’t understand why i felt the way i did when i had a decent life. i may have come from a broken family but i always had a roof over my head and a loving mother who fully accepted me for who i was and never stopped trying. she was the only person who never gave up hope on me. but anyway, i don’t want to be remembered as the girl with problems, just remember me as someone who understood and stayed strong for as long as i could.”