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Protecting LGBTQI+ Identity within the Funeral Industry

Pride month is here, and while it is a month dedicated to recognise the impact LGBTQI+ communities have had on the world, it is important to jointly address the challenges and hardships LGBTQI+ individuals are still facing today. One (of many) topics to discuss this pride month is how prejudice and discrimination can linger on, even in death. In life, members of the LGBTQI+ community undergo tremendous hurdles ensuring they receive accurate identification, reflecting their truest identity. In death, sadly, we have found there to be little difference and that barriers still remain. 

 

This blog highlights how even in death LGBTQI+ individuals can face the same kinds of discrimination they endure whilst living, and how to better prepare and equip oneself for when the inevitable does come. 

 

It started in a funeral home 

Aimee Stephens was a notable case bringing awareness to LGBTQI+ rights and protection within the funeral industry. For many years, Aimee presented as male while working at the R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Home. She kept the fact that she identified as a woman to herself. When she eventually decided to undergo gender reassignment surgery, she wrote a heartfelt letter to her colleagues about her decision to transition. After years and a long process, Aimee would be coming back to work at the funeral home as her true self. She writes in her letter: 

 

“I will return to work as my true self, Aimee Australia Stephens, in appropriate business attire. I hope we can continue my work at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes doing what I always have, which is my best!”

 

Despite the fact that Aimee had worked for the funeral home for many years as an exceptional employee, she was unjustly fired shortly after she sent her letter. She brought her case to the attention of the US government, which then became one of three landmark cases resulting in the Supreme Court ruling that firing someone simply because they are LGBTQI+ is illegal. 

 

Aimee Stephens: Fighting for the Right to be Who We Are 

 

Aimee’s story is one of many anecdotes of discrimination and prejudice that LGBTQI+ individuals face. Espousing prejudice and bigotry at the end of someone’s life has a detrimental impact on LGBTQI+ people. At the very worst, this means someone will spend their last days feeling alone, isolated, unwelcome, and even angry. For those who lose a loved one, not being able to say goodbye in a respectful and peaceful environment can make grief and bereavement that much harder to bear. 

 

Photo credit: Charles William Kelly/ACLU

 

Ways to plan ahead 

From book events, to social media, to what we read on message boards, a large portion of individuals who follow the death awareness and death positive movements are LGBTQI+. We think the reason for this may be (and we are open to hearing other points of views, too!) is because stories like Aimee’s above illuminate the real threats that still need to be faced even in death. What we recommend at Neo is for people to make a “death plan” that protects you and clearly identifies your wishes for when you die, so that there is no room for misinterpretation. Keep in mind that this advice works for everyone. 

 

1. Know what you want.
Do some research here if you need to. Do you know what your options are for when you die? Do you want a funeral? Do you want to be buried or cremated? You can ensure your wishes are followed for when you die, if you have a clear idea of what you want and most importantly, what you don’t want. Take some time and think about what your options are before you relay your wishes to those close to you.

 

2. Know who you want.
This is just as important as knowing what you want. This step entails deciding who will be legally in charge of your body for when you die. We call this the “next of kin,” who in fact has all legal rights in executing your funeral. Choose this person wisely. Have a think about who is that friend, partner, or relative who is kind, affirming, and logistically savvy. In some cases, your next of kin may be the exact person you want to be taking care of your body anyway.

 

3. Ask for what you want from your trusted people, and then explain it to them.
When you have chosen who you want as your next of kin, be sure to ask them and let them know they will be responsible for your affairs for when you die. You wouldn’t want this to come as a not so fun surprise to them, which is why it’s always best to have a discussion first.

 

4. Get it in writing.
The most important step. Tell the person what it is that you are asking. If you are afraid about being misgendered, say so. Tell your next of kin “I’m afraid of what will happen to me when I die. You are my trusted person to handle my death and funeral arrangements.” Ensure you get all of that in writing, and make it official.

 

5. Share those documents.
Once you have the documents in order, the best way to share those is by giving your cohort of trusted people a copy to keep safe. The best way to share documents is to give your doctor/medical practitioner a copy, give your trusted people a copy, and keep these documents in a safe place. 

 

Before one dies, there are certain steps that can and should be more widely taken to avoid errors. At Neo, we believe that one lasting improvement is to bring light to these situations and make a greater effort to encourage an open dialogue about death and funeral planning.

 

Organisations you can contact

If you’re part of the LGBTQI+ community, there are many organisations to get in touch with that help people plan for the end of life. Some of these organisations include: 

 

Stonewall – who campaign for the equality of gay, lesbian, bi, and trans community  all across Britain.

 

Trans Lifeline – A US organisation providing trans peer support groups, run by and for trans people.

 

The Scottish Trans Alliance – an organisation improving trans equality, rights, and inclusion in Scotland. They provide legal advice as well as online trans awareness training sessions.

 

Age UK – a large UK charity providing programmes, training, and support for the aging LGBTQ+ community.

 

Cliniq – which provides holistic wellbeing and sexual health services for trans, non binary, and gender diverse individuals. They even offer trans awareness training.

 

Additionally, you can purchase a funeral plan with Neo and know that your wishes will be honoured 100%. We welcome and respect everyone, no matter their backgrounds, and we have even solidified those values in our recent Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statement which you can read about, here. 

Jenn Ulloa

Digital Operations Analyst

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