Carol Brownlow got tired of seeing her gay and lesbian friends put back into the closet at their funerals. “It is heart wrenching to hear their authentic lives continue to be rejected by their families even in death,” Carol says.
Seeing sexual orientation or gender identity disrespected after a person has died can be a painful experience for the chosen family and community of an LGBTQ+ person. Unless a person has designated someone to make decisions concerning the disposition of their body after death, a legal “chain of command” takes effect. Immediate family are by law the default decision makers regarding physical remains. This blog post and our page Oregon Legal Essentials provide information and further resources to ensure your wishes, identity, and relationships are respected.
“For members of the LGBTQ community, dying without the legal protections of a living will or power of attorney could mean spending their final days without the support of the people who love them. A 2010 study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute found that LGBTQ elders are twice as likely to live alone and four times less likely to have children than their straight counterparts. That means their caregivers are often friends, exes, or chosen family who aren’t always recognized by the medical and legal systems.” ~ Yes! Magazine
If you want someone other than your immediate family to direct or control the disposition of your body it is critical that you complete an Appointment of Person to Make Decisions Concerning Disposition of My Remains form. Funeral director Gillian Fitzhugh has seen up close how important this is for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“If you are someone who worries that your legal next of kin may not respect your identity or your wishes in death, the State of Oregon has made it easy to delegate the person of your choosing to handle your final arrangements," Gillian says. “All that the state requires is that you complete the Appointment of Person form. The form does not need to be notarized; your signature only needs to be witnessed by two independent witnesses. It is also advisable to make sure that the funeral home (if you are pre-arranging) has a copy of this form in your pre-arrangement file. Power of Attorney alone is not enough to direct funeral arrangements, as it ceases when you pass. Naming an executor of your estate is not sufficient either, unless there is specific direction in the will the addresses your wishes & who is to carry out your wishes.”
Carol, Gillian, funeral celebrant Holly Pruett, and LGBTQ+ attorneys like Judith Moman (a contributor to this site) are passionate about educating the queer and trans communities about how to make sure their identities, chosen families, and wishes are honored when death occurs. Others are working to remove barriers to LGBTQ-affirming care during the dying process, in hospice care and other settings; an Advance Care Directive can help to ensure that identity, relationships, and personal choices are respected outside of default heterosexual and gender norms.
Resources for LGBTQ+ planning, community education and outreach: