HRC Honors Aaron Lynch, 26-year-old Transgender Man Killed in Virginia

by Jared Todd

HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Aaron Lynch, a 26-year-old transgender man who was shot and killed by police in McClean, Virginia on July 7. Aaron’s death is at least the 26th violent killing of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2022. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported.

At 26, Aaron had his whole life in front of him. My thoughts and prayers are with Aaron’s loved ones. Aaron’s death is a tragic result of our system’s ineffectiveness in caring for people who are struggling mentally and emotionally. People, especially those of multiple marginalized identities, suffer every day as a result. His life did not have to end like this. We demand more focus and funding on mental health care in our country, including the addition of mental health counselors to respond to certain critical situations. No family should have to bear this pain."

Tori Cooper, Human Rights Campaign Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative

On July 7, police responded to a call made by a friend who was concerned about Aaron’s wellbeing and went to his home to check in on him. It was reported that police arrived with a trained mental health co-responder but Aaron was not found on the property. Police then returned a second time without the co-responder. After a back-and-forth with police, officers attempted to tase Aaron unsuccessfully. One officer then fired his weapon, shooting Aaron four times. No officers were injured and Aaron was pronounced dead at the scene. The shooting is under investigation and all involved officers have been placed on restricted duty.

Fairfax County Police Department has only one clinician in its crisis responder program, but hopes to add up to 15 more, according to the police chief.

Aaron’s family released the following statement to local press:

“Our son, Aaron, was experiencing a severe mental health crisis on July 7. He was scared and asked for both of the 911 calls that were made that day. We believe that the three police officers who answered the second 911 call could have, and should have, handled this far differently. To respond to Aaron’s mental health crisis by shooting him at all, let alone multiple times, cannot be justified. We recognize that, at times, police officers face grave and unknown dangers in the line of duty, but that was not the case for that call at our home regarding our son. Aaron was about 5’ 6", slightly built, and holding just a bottle and a decorative mask. As parents, we mourn the heartbreaking loss of our son and are left with only memories and regret. Had we known there was any possibility that the police responding to the second 911 call would use lethal force against Aaron during a mental health crisis, we would not have involved them until a mental health counselor could be present, as was the case for the response to the first 911 call. We hope our efforts to find out more about this incident will, in the future, help families in similar situations avoid such a tragic outcome.”

In 2022, officer-involved shootings have taken the lives of over 600 people. Aaron’s death marks the third fatal shooting by the police of a transgender person recorded by HRC since 2020. This number may be higher as data is hard to come by and rarely tracked by gender identity – or, as happens frequently, transgender and non-binary people are misgendered and/or deadnamed in reports. Transgender people, especially transgender people of color, are at increased risk of experiencing police brutality, even in the wake of other encountered violence. A 2013 report from National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), found that transgender people who reported to the police after experiencing intimate partner violence and/or hate violence were seven times as likely as cisgender LGBQ+ people to have experienced physical violence at the hands of the police during reporting. The 2015 US Transgender Survey found that over half (58%) of transgender respondents who had interacted with police in the previous year experienced some form of mistreatment, including verbal harassment, misgendering, and physical and sexual assault. Other studies have found that risk of encountering police violence is even higher for BIPOC transgender people than their white transgender peers.

At the same time, police departments are failing to adapt more trans-inclusive policies which could help to counteract these trends. A 2019 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that, of the 25 largest police departments in the United States, only one department required officers to record an individual’s pronouns, none required them to record an individual’s chosen name, and only nine had specific search procedures that were sensitive to the needs of transgender people. None required any extensive training for officers on how to interact with transgender people in an affirming way.

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