Advocates for transgender rights set the Internet afire with rage this weekend after Mesa police identified a 24-year-old transgender man who was shot and killed by police as a woman.
Kayden Clarke, named by police and subsequently the media (including New Times) as Danielle Jacobs, started asking friends and family to refer to him as a man about six months ago, said close friend Kae Glenn, and was in the process of researching hormone treatments to help him transition from female to male.
When Glenn saw the news articles calling Clarke “Danielle,” he was livid. On Twitter, people launched a campaign to name and shame reporters for the error with hashtags such as #HisNameWasKaydenClarke.
Disgusting not only did the police MURDER an innocent transman, they misgendered him in a statement after doing so. #HisNameWasKaydenClarke— Charlie (@blueinkedprince) February 6, 2016
#HisNameWasKaydenClarke and he was failed, numerous times in numerous ways, and misgendering him in death continues this failure.— Celeste Noelani (@runningnekkid) February 5, 2016
#HisNameWasKaydenClarke nothing can bring this poor man back yet he's still denied his identity.— gracie (@monodrqma) February 5, 2016
It is important that Clarke be remembered in death with the gender identity he embraced, Glenn said, because in life, mustering the courage to begin his transition and the desire to be “supported and understood as a fellow man” were among his greatest battles.
Clarke had dressed and behaved in a masculine fashion since childhood and had “understood his gender” for years, Glenn said. He had struggled, however, to win support at home and at work.
Less than a month before he died, Clarke posted a video on YouTube claiming gender therapists had refused to administer testosterone treatment until he dealt with his depression, which he insisted was caused by his inability to transition.
Clarke, who achieved brief Internet fame last year when he posted a video about how he had trained his Rottweiler Samson to comfort him when he was having an Asperger-related meltdown and trying to hurt himself, also claimed a gender therapist had told him he needed to “fix” his Asperger syndrome before he could begin taking hormones.
“You can’t cure a neurological disorder,” Clarke said in the video. “It’s ignorance. It’s frustrating. She kept saying the word ‘disease,’ every time I kept correcting her.”
In a heartbreaking admission of vulnerability, he confessed: “I’m at my losing point.”
Clarke leaned on Glenn for support when he was having suicidal thoughts — which was often.
“He was in a dark place,” Glenn said. “No one seemed to support him being male or even his other medical and mental conditions.”
By the end of each conversation, Glenn said the two were able to move on to happier topics, such as his job at Target, where he worked as a stocker and cashier, and his hobby training dogs, like Samson, to assist people with developmental disabilities.
“Every time he expressed his troubles, it would all seem like it was just a step forward into him being who he truly is,” Glenn said.
But Thursday police received a call that Clarke was making an attempt at his life. When officers arrived at his apartment near 80th and Brown, he emerged from the back bedroom of his house wielding a knife. They opened fire, a police spokesman said, when Clarke lunged at them.
He was rushed to the hospital but soon died.
When Clarke was misgendered in reports of the incident, Glenn said he worried it distracted from his personal achievements.
“I don’t want him to be defined by his illness or [gender] identity, because, after all, his kindness and compassion are what matter most,” he said.
Amy Walker, an LGBT activist who has worked with the Centre for Hate Crime Studies in Leicester and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and The Empowerment of Women, agreed.
“Kayden was an amazing individual, who tried to shine a light on the struggles that people living with Asperger's face, and he has been shown nothing but disrespect,” Walker wrote in an article for Planet Transgender. “To call Kayden anything other than Kayden, or refer to him as female, spits in the face of his memory . . . and it should be called out whenever it is seen.”
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After reading the police account of events, she concluded: “To me, that sounds like murder.”
"I’m sure that there will be an investigation into these events, and I hope that the truth comes out and that people face the justice that they deserve," she wrote. “Unfortunately, people can’t even show Kayden enough respect to use the correct names and pronouns, so that kind of justice will probably never come.”