TDoR 2024 / 2024 / February / 27 / Ashton Myles Clatterbuck

Ashton Myles Clatterbuck

27 Feb 2024
Lancaster, Pennsylvania (USA)

Ashton Myles Clatterbuck
Ashton Myles Clatterbuck [photo:]

Ash died by suicide.

Members of the Lancaster community left flowers, letters and chalk art in memory of Ash Clatterbuck during a candlelight vigil held at Penn Square in downtown Lancaster on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024.

To those who knew him, Ashton Clatterbuck was easy to describe: A magnetic personality with a big laugh and a quick wit. A voracious reader and fast marathon runner. A sharp writer and a tireless activist who sought out injustice and called for change.

What is so much harder for his family and friends to explain is how it feels knowing that he is gone: Another transgender person who sought acceptance and died far too young.

“He has touched so many lives for good in his short life,” said his mother, [name redacted]. “I cannot express how much our hearts hurt. His smile was contagious, and his positivity brought sunlight to so many hurting.”

“Ash was an incredible human being who made all of our lives brighter by virtue of knowing him. May his memory be a blessing.” said Democratic state Rep. Izzy Smith Wade-El, who represents Lancaster and led the vigil [for Ash].

After the vigil, the sounds of crying and whispering gave way to conversation, a violin and even some laughter as people found fellowship in one another.

Some knew Clatterbuck personally. Others, like Deklan Rupp of Lancaster, came to give support to a transgender community that he said simply wants to be accepted but is instead met with endless scrutiny and vilification — in the news, in politics and at school board meetings.

“It was very moving, just to see how many people were there, just to see how many people’s lives were touched by Ash,” said Rupp. Rupp, a transgender man who serves as music minister at Vision of Hope Metropolitan Community Church in Mountville, said it’s important for transgender people “to show up and make ourselves seen.”

Rupp said he was stunned to realize that this is the third young transgender person that he knows of who has died in Lancaster County in the last year. Theodora “Thea” Cassidy of Ephrata and River Olmsted of Manheim Township died last fall, just weeks apart.

Rupp said there is an urgent need for young transgender people to feel accepted — and know where to turn when they need help navigating gender identity, family and the stresses of being targeted by politicians and activist groups.

The morning after the vigil, Lititz Chooses Love executive director Parker Webb was already busy planning events to help others in the LGBTQ+ community who are struggling with grief and sadness.

“During this difficult time in our community, coming together in love and joy can be healing,” Webb said. Online, he directed people to three upcoming events hosted by Lititz Chooses Love: Karaoke, coffee and a meeting for adults.

“We just are in an emergency situation,” said Webb. “And we want to work with others. If you want to work with our community, we’re here. We need places where queer people feel welcome.”

Chriss Nelson, a Clay Township resident who identifies as nonbinary and is president and founder of Trans Minors Rights, worked with Ash Clatterbuck at an arts and crafts meetup a year ago.

“There were so many people (at Thursday’s vigil). I wasn’t expecting that. Ash touched the lives of so many people,” Nelson said. “The work that he did and his family did was so amazing. It’s going to live on. It was such an inspiration. It was such a privilege to meet such a compassionate person.”

“The political climate has just been really dangerous recently,” Nelson said. “People seem to be encouraging violence. The story about Nex (Benedict) that broke recently was just an example of that, of how angry, I think, people have become. So I think it’s important to keep educating people, and pushing for legislation that protects people.”

Nelson said they were shaken by Clatterbuck's death.

“The political climate has become so much more dangerous that even having a supportive family isn’t enough anymore. It's really scary that politicians are using their platforms to do something so detrimental to our community.”

Clatterbuck himself pointed to this problem, though, as his father put it, his son’s approach was not based in anger. Mark Clatterbuck recounted that his son took him to a “ReAwaken America” event at Spooky Nook in October 2022. He wanted to give people a chance to meet a transgender person.

There, Ash Clatterbuck stood in line to shake the hand of Michael Flynn, the conspiracy theorist and a national security adviser during the Trump administration.

“It was that kind of playful, subversive way that he confronted hatred,” Mark Clatterbuck said.

As a writer and occasional contributor to the LNP | LancasterOnline opinion section, Ash Clatterbuck took on a range of issues facing LGBTQ+ people.

“Making it ‘illegal’ to be transgender does not stop people from being born transgender,” he wrote last May. “Closing your eyes doesn’t make us go away. The anti-LGBTQ+ political stunts we see around the country — masquerading as religious liberty and moral piety — are doing real harm to queer Americans.”

In that piece, Chatterbuck pointed to a study by Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy at UCLA that found about 1.5% of Americans identify as transgender. “This makes for an easy target, and the GOP knows this,” Clatterbuck wrote.

“America is a country of diversity, inclusion, strength and liberty. How does my very existence challenge, in any way, those values — your values? Your actions cannot change who we are. The only thing you can change is your own attitude toward us.”

For [his mother], her son will be remembered for more than his work supporting LGBTQ+ rights.

“He always sided with and spoke for marginalized people,” she said. Asked what motivated him to care for those in need, she said she remembered sitting together as a family, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and contemplating the Beatitudes, which is part of the New Testament of the Bible.

She said groups that have been targeting transgender people will probably try to say her son was simply a “tortured soul” — a notion she rejects.

“He was not a tortured soul,” she said. “He was a ray of light. If he was tortured, it’s because our culture has created a world in which people like Ash are not welcome.”

Ash's Medium profile is

Report added: 20 Mar 2024. Last updated: 5 Apr 2024

Trigger warning

This site contains reports of violence against transgender people, and links to detailed reports which contain graphic imagery.

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