Tragedy struck our community recently as Sam Harel Price, Columbia High School class of 2013 and Oberlin College junior, took her own life last month on her 21st birthday.
Sam is the beloved daughter of Beth Dorogusker Price and Adam Price and sister of Jonah. A family friend described Sam, a transgender woman, as a popular student who played cello and ran on the boys cross country team while at CHS. CHS held a moment of silence this past week in honor of Sam.
In the aftermath of her death, Sam’s family has established a charitable organization in her honor — SamDevorah.org — to help at-risk transgender and transsexual youth. The Sam & Devorah Foundation for Trans Youth aims to provide a safe haven in the hopes of saving young lives; its mission is to “provide support and professional counseling in an accepting and caring environment.”
On the Sam & Devorah Foundation website, Sam’s uncle Eric Price has posted tributes and eulogies for Sam including one by Sam’s father Adam, who writes that, despite knowing that the rate of suicide attempts among transgender and gender non-conforming people is astoundingly high (41%), “I mistakenly thought that because Sam’s family accepted her unconditionally, we would be spared this fate.”
Adam writes movingly of how Sam’s grandfather Ben, upon Sam’s coming out, “immediately approached Sam, hugged her, and said, ‘I love you no matter what.'” Adam writes that high school friends were similarly accepting: “I can tell you they did not miss a beat, and acted as if nothing had changed. This acceptance became even more meaningful when Sam later told me she had not even told them she was transgender.”
My Dearest Sam,
This is a love letter. The change of your identity was at first surprising. But Papa and I want you to know you are today as you were yesterday, our precious, delightful, bright, beautiful grandchild who is an integral part of our lives. May you continue sharing books, music and all things Jewish with us and never stop hugging and loving us as we do you.
Oma and Papa
In a phone interview, Sam’s uncle Eric Price spoke of how the family wanted to reach out after the tragedy to help remove the stigma associated with suicide and help other trans youth.
“Even with a loving family, you’ve got a young person struggling with identity, finding their path. It’s hard for anyone at that age — then add the difficulty of coming out as transgender and trying to find out who you.” Eric notes that he is gay and struggled with coming out himself for similar reasons.
“This generation is much more accepting. It’s amazing,” said Eric. “It gives me hope.”
All of the remembrances posted on the website speak of Sam’s singular kindness.
Sam’s mother Beth writes of Sam’s incredible giving spirit: “When family and friends asked Sam what she wanted for High School graduation presents, she requested from each person a book that was meaningful to them and in some way changed their lives. I gave Sam Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. For Chanukah and her birthday she insisted, and I mean insisted, on NO gifts just donations to several charities. She sent us her list of charities….”
“Sadly, tragically,” Beth continues, “Sam could give and be kind to others but not to herself. In her later years, she led a private life of desperation and agony. And I pray, with all my heart that she is no longer suffering and is at peace.”
Her brother Jonah writes that “my sister Sam was one of the most incredible people I have ever known.”
Like others, Jonah writes of Sam’s social activism and her incredible generosity: “Sam was always there for anyone and everyone who needed her. She was compassionate and empathetic while at the same time strong and passionate.”
“Sadly, there is no path back, we can only move forward. We must because the last thing Sam would have wanted was for any of us to suffer. Sam, I will always love you and there will not be a single minute that goes by where I am not thinking about you.”
To find out more about the Sam & Devorah Foundation for Trans Youth and donate, visit www.samdevorah.org.