Kayden Clarke

Photo of Kayden Clarke. He is a young man with short brown hair and glasses; he is smiling and holding up a small pillow decorated with a picture of a dog.Name: Kayden Clarke
Died: February 4, 2016
Age at death: 24
Cause of death: Police shooting
Location: Mesa, Arizona, USA

Kayden was active in the online autism community, posting videos of himself on YouTube in which he talked about autism and mental illness, about gender, and about his life in general. One of his videos received international attention; in it, Kayden shows how his dog Samson helps him pull through an autistic meltdown. As he begins to cry and hit himself, Samson insistently paws and nudges at him until finally Kayden sits down on the floor, holding and petting the dog.

Samson, a Rottweiler rescue dog, was Kayden’s service dog. Since the age of thirteen, Kayden had been doing volunteer work for HALO Animal Rescue, a no-kill dog shelter in Phoenix. He adopted Samson and found the dog to be an intelligent, calm, empathetic animal well-suited to be a service dog; so he and Samson began service dog training.

Kayden desperately wanted to go to college, but career coaches kept telling him he “wasn’t ready” and couldn’t do what he wanted to do. He had worked very hard at high school, earning a 3.7 grade point average despite a diagnosis of “cognitive impairment” and learning disability. Kayden posted a video explaining that they were denying him accommodations and refusing to even let him try college because of his disabilities; it was, he said, like “telling a kindergartner they were going to fail trigonometry”.

As an adult, still unwilling to give up on his dreams of college, Kayden got an apartment and a job at Target.

In addition to being autistic, Kayden faced prejudice because he was a transgender man. Assigned female at birth, by his twenties he was transitioning and had chosen Kayden Clarke as his new name. Like many transgender people, he struggled with depression; he had survived one suicide attempt two years previously. Because he was autistic, Kayden faced even more opposition from doctors than most transgender people; one doctor outright denied him hormone therapy.

Despite this, Kayden’s transition was going generally well. In December 2015 he excitedly announced to his YouTube followers that his insurance would pay for surgery. In January 2016, he came out at work and got a new name tag with his new name.

Police officers were called to Kayden’s home due to calls about a possibly suicidal individual there. When police arrived, they found Kayden holding a knife and shot him in the stomach, killing him.

The autism and transgender communities will always miss Kayden Clarke. Despite all the trouble he faced, Kayden was a loving individual who would have given his last dollar to a perfect stranger. He was an advocate for dogs, for individuals with autism, for people with mental illness, and for transgender people. Though he had to deal with so much hate from the world at large, Kayden’s life was still defined by his love for others.

Samson, Kayden’s faithful service dog, is now living with Kayden’s parents.

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