01 April 2014

Dignity In Death

Too many trans people face the dilemma of being defined by a document issued when they were born while they are living their lives their true selves.

I was in such a dilemma for several years:  I was living as Justine, a woman, but my birth certificate still said I was a boy named Nicholas.  That could have been problematic had I had a medical emergency or worse.  After all, I could have been buried as a man. (On top of that, I don't think I want to be buried.  But that's another story altogether.)

For too many trans people, the obstacles involved in changing their birth certificates are prohibitive.  In some states and countries, the procedure is endless and expensive.  And, in many jurisdictions, changing birth certificates for any reason is simply not allowed.

That is why I was gratified to read about this latest development from California:

Sacramento, CA – The Respect After Death Act (AB 1577), authored by Assembly Speaker-elect Toni Atkins and sponsored by Transgender Law Center and Equality California, passed the Assembly Health Committee today by a bipartisan provisional vote of 17-1. The bill is designed to help ensure transgender people have their authentic gender identity reflected on their death certificates.

The Respect After Death Act will mean that death certificates reflect the authentic lived gender of the deceased, with various forms of proof accepted under the law, including written confirmation of the deceased’s wishes, updated birth certificates and driver’s licenses, or medical records of gender transition.

“Transgender people deserve the same dignity and respect in death as everyone else,” said John O’Connor, executive director of EQCA. “This bill provides much needed legal guidance that

“Every person deserves to be treated with dignity after their death, including having their death certificate accurately reflect who they are,” said Speaker-elect Atkins. “AB 1577 will provide direction to officials for determining the wishes of the deceased with respect to their gender identification. I am grateful for the strong bipartisan support of my colleagues on the Assembly Health Committee.” will make it easier for authorities to do their jobs. It also ensures that when California remembers transgender people who have passed, it remembers their authentic selves.”

Current law requires death certificates to list personal data such as name, sex, and race, and there is no legal guidance about how the official filling out the death certificate should determine a transgender person’s sex. The lack of guidance sometimes results in cases where the information on the death certificate is not consistent with the deceased’s lived gender. This can put funeral directors and coroners at risk of liability if the friends and family of the deceased believe that they listed the incorrect sex.

“Too often, the identities of transgender people are disrespected, especially when we are unable to speak for ourselves. Gender identity represents a core part of who we are as people and this identity should be recognized even upon our deaths,” said Masen Davis, executive director of Transgender Law Center. “When a loved one is not honored as their authentic self upon their passing it is extremely painful for the family, friends, and community.”