LGBTQ+ Rights for Funerals

By: Matthew Funeral Home
Monday, August 31, 2020


English poet John Donne once stated, “Death comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes.” While this can be a comforting sentiment, it is important to know your rights, even when it comes to your own death. For many gay, trans, queer, and non-binary individuals, it can be important to understand your rights when it comes to the many aspects of your passing. This can include funerary wishes, advance directives, funeral agents, obituaries, and more.

Your Wishes and Next of Kin

It is important to understand who is considered your “next of kin” when determining your funeral wishes. If that person is not accepting of your identity or sexuality, they may not want to honor your wishes. Thankfully, spouses are recognized as your next of kin, which can help protect your wishes.

If not married, there are steps you can take to help ensure that your wishes are met. A way to prevent issues in this regard is to establish an Advance Directive. This is a document that outlines what your wishes for end of life care are; in a legal document. Your estate attorney can help you create this document. You should also assign someone as your Health Care Proxy, to be trusted with making medical decisions on your behalf. Additionally, someone you trust can be selected as your “Funeral Agent.” This is a title given to the person entrusted with the legal authority to carry out your funeral wishes.

Pre-Planning your Funeral

In addition to an Advance Directive, pre-planning your funeral can help you establish your wishes, while financially preparing for them. Pre-planning your funeral can reduce the financial burden of a funeral on your loved ones; while also helping ensure that your wishes are met. This can include choosing a funeral home, whether you want to be buried or cremated, and more. 

Controlling the Narrative of your Obituary

It is possible for you to have a lawyer, trusted friend, or your funeral agent publish an obituary for you. Some people find it empowering to write their own, or to ask a close friend or family member to do it. If your family is unaccepting of your identity, this can be important for controlling the narrative of your obituary.

Dead Names and Grave Markers

Most cemeteries in the country are privately owned, and allow for the customization of the grave marker. This can include using a name different from your legal name; in the event that you haven't had the chance to change it legally. Most restrictions that cemeteries have regarding markers are for stone colors, sizes, or shapes. Many people use nicknames on gravestones already; so many cemeteries may not have an issue with this. Documents in the office of the cemetery would have the official name on the death certificate, which can be different from what is on the marker. It is best to shop around for cemeteries ahead of time and find one that will honor your wishes. 

Can Honorably Discharged LGBTQ Vets have a Veteran Ceremony?

LGBTQ veterans are eligible for funeral and burial benefits, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Your funeral home of choice can help you or your loved ones arrange these benefits. New York has recently passed laws that allow for the restoration of burial rights for LGBTQ vets who were dishonorably discharged for their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Documentation for these benefits may require signatures from next of kin, and proof of name change, if applicable. Often, the VA may be unaware of official name changes, so documentation is needed to make sure that the military can confirm.

Spousal benefits for same-sex marriages are the same as those for heterosexual couples. Benefits such as life insurance, and the presentation of the flag are available regardless of sexual orientation. For more information, visit the VA’s page on LGBT service members.

X Gender Marker in Different States

Not every state recognizes the “X” gender marker on updated birth certificates. New York does recognize this marker. This can be complicated in regards to death in a state where it is not recognized, but where the certificate was changed in a previous state of residence. This will not have a bearing on your memorialization options, but may present complications with life insurance claims or legal paperwork. You should talk to your lawyer for more information regarding your state of residence.

For over 50 years, Matthew Funeral Home has been serving the Staten Island community. We can help with almost every aspect of your loved one’s memorial service. Our family is here to serve yours, every step of the way.

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