Joe Mirabella

Invisible at Death

Filed By Joe Mirabella | March 13, 2011 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: law, lgbt rights, Washington State

Death Certificates in Washington State do not count gay, lesbian, bisexual deathcert.jpgor transgender people, and Washington is not alone. There is not a single state in this country recording this data. This is problematic for several reasons.

For example: Local, state, and national governments get a huge amount of data from death certificates. Trends become clear by gender, age, location, etc from causes of death when the data is available. Is cancer higher in women in Washington State than men? Are older people more likely to die from the flu? Do seat belt laws prevent automobile accident deaths? The list goes on and on.

For LGBT people, it is incredibly difficult to make those conclusion because they are invisible at death. Death certificates do not include any information about sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is a public health issue. Are gay people more likely to commit suicide? Do lesbians have the same heart disease rates as heterosexual women? Are committed gay couples more likely to live longer? Do states with more inclusive laws have healthier LGBTs than states that discriminate? What are the murder rates of Trans people?

These questions need answers, but if we do not have the data how can we even begin to tackle the solutions?

In Washington State, LGBT folks are a protected class. We are supposed to be included equally throughout our legal framework. We can begin to gather the data by adding two markers on the death certificate, "sexual orientation" and "gender identity". It is a simple fix that should be completed as soon as possible.

At a national level, the CDC needs to issue a requirement to states to collect data on LGBT deaths, so localities that do not recognize LGBTs under law will find it far more convenient to change their death certificates than to continue to ignore us.

It is bad enough that some of us remain invisible during parts of our lives, we should not be re-closeted for our eternal rest.


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I don't see how this would work. When someone dies, their relatives/parents/partners would tell the coroner that they were gay? What about a transsexual woman whose husband doesn't know about her history? What about a gay teen who committed suicide whose parents never accepted that he was gay? What about the lesbian woman in an opposite-sex marriage whose never come out to anyone? What about the bisexual woman who just says she's straight because it's easier and she's "rounding"? What about the trans man who lives alone, whose family of origin he hasn't seen since transition? What about the queer person who refuses to fall neatly into a sexual orientation category?

This isn't really that easy. The fact that the people being counted are dead only makes it harder.

This is just like the census issue. I agree, this is so critical and I bet there's a good surprise or two in there. Others like suicide rates won't be as surprising....but maybe even understated. In the past, they considered this a bit personal. Some older folks might have lived in the closet all their lives with a "roommate" and don't want people to know. I'm not sure straights want that recorded about them but I'm sure they don't mind so much either since society supports their heteronormativity so exclusively well.

My other question is who should supply this information? I'm assuming a surviving partner normally would but I'm wondering if this will make it with youth or not if their (sometimes bigoted) parents have "reservations about xer 'memory'". How is other information gathered now and how can we enforce it?


Tony Soprano | March 14, 2011 8:00 PM

Joe wrote:
> "This is a public ... issue"

No, Joe, it isn't. My wife and I are private citizens. Our "sexual orientation or gender identity" is NOT PUBLIC INFORMATION, and none of your damn business, or anybody else's.

My WIFE is a WOMAN, a LADY, and many other special things. She is NOT a (pick one): "guy who had a sex-change", post-op MTF, transwoman, etc.). She DESPISES the cruel hand that fate dealt her, and she's done everything possible to leave her past behind and live as close as possible the life she should of had in the first place. And, I shall do everything I can to protect her, and honor her wishes.

Label yourself if you want. But, you have NO LEGITIMACY to label others - especially my wife.

BTW, we refused to answer the census. For the above reasons, among others.