D.C. police initially withheld information disclosing that the victim of a shooting death early Wednesday morning in Northeast Washington was a transgender woman, reopening concerns among LGBT activists about police handling of crimes affecting the transgender community.
In a press release issued Wednesday afternoon, police identified the victim as “23-year-old Myles Mclean of N.E. Washington, D.C.” The release made no mention that “Myles” is the legal birth name given to a transgender woman who had been using the name Lashai Mclean following her gender transition over the past several years.
The press release says Sixth District officers responded to a report of a shooting on the 6100 block of Dix Street, N.E. at 4:26 a.m. on July 20 and found the victim suffering from an apparent gunshot wound. The release says the victim was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
While the department’s Public Information Office omitted information about Mclean being a transgender person in its press release to the news media, the police Special Liaison Division, which oversees the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, disclosed the transgender angle to the case in e-mails it sent to its list of various community activists and organizations, including LGBT activists.
A police spokesperson said late Thursday that investigators had not determined a motive or identified a suspect in the case.
Around the same time that police issued their press release, the office of Mayor Vincent Gray issued a separate press release that did identify Mclean as a transgender person.
“Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier today reported to Mayor Vincent Gray a homicide overnight at 6110 Dix Street, N.E. in which the victim of a fatal shooting was a transgender person,” says the release from the mayor’s office.
“Jeffrey D. Richardson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, also was advised of the incident,” the release says. “At this time MPD officials say they have no information to indicate that this is a hate crime. However, it is very early in the investigation.”
The release includes a statement from Gray saying every homicide in the city “is a tragedy for which the perpetrators must be brought to swift justice.” The mayor added, “However, if the investigation concludes that this shooting was the result of bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity, MPD and my administration will work with this community to see that there is an appropriate response to this kind of violence, which cannot be tolerated.”
Gwendolyn Crump, director of the police department’s Office of Communications, told the Blade on Friday that the department has a policy of not disclosing the gender identity or sexual orientation of crime victims unless police determine those characteristics are related to the crime.
“We respect the privacy of our victims,” Crump said.
Transgender activist Earline Budd, an official with the D.C. group Transgender Health Empowerment, said the police policy “makes no sense” in the Lashai Mclean murder case because Mclean lived openly as a transgender woman.
“There’s nothing private about this at all,” Budd said.
“We have requested that the police make a correction on that release,” said Ruby Corado, a member of the D.C. Trans Coalition. “We think the community should be notified about the true nature of this case.”
In the past, police officials have said they have decided on a case by case basis whether to disclose if a crime victim is transgender. In some cases, police officials have said they defer to the wishes of the victim’s parents or next of kin, some of whom have asked police not to reveal that a crime victim is transgender.
In a statement released on Thursday, the D.C. Trans Coalition said it learned from its own sources that “another trans woman was present during the attack and, thankfully, escaped.”
Transgender Health Empowerment, another organization that provides services to the transgender community, said Mclean had been one of the group’s clients and had frequently visited the group’s drop-in facility on North Capitol Street.
“Lashai was a friend to many people in the community – including several D.C. Trans Coalition organizers who offer our sincerest condolence to those grieving this loss,” the D.C. Trans Coalition statement says. “We must stress once again the absolute necessity for the police and media to respect Lashai’s gender identity. The least we can do to honor her memory is to respect her chosen, lived identity.”
The D.C. Trans Coalition and friends of Mclean are holding a candle light vigil in Mclean’s honor on Saturday, July 23, at 7 p.m., at the intersection of 61st and Dix Street, N.E., near where Mclean was murdered.