Thursday, California’s Respect After Death Act (AB 1577) passed in the Assembly by a bipartisan vote of 62-5, and will now head to the Senate. The bill will help ensure transgender people have their authentic gender identity reflected on their death certificates. It was authored by Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins and sponsored by Equality California and Transgender Law Center.
“Once we are deceased, we are often at the mercy of others to treat us with dignity,” said Atkins. “The very least we can do is ensure individuals are given basic human dignity by honoring their authentic selves when they pass so that more pain is not inflicted upon grieving loved ones or the community.”
“Respecting our transgender brothers and sisters means recognizing their authentic lives, even in death,” said John O’Connor, Equality California executive director. “We’re proud that a broad bipartisan majority voted to affirm that, and we thank Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins for her leadership on the issue.”
“We’re thrilled to see such broad support for this common-sense legislation,” said Kris Hayashi, Transgender Law Center’s Deputy Director. “This simple reform will put transgender people and their families at ease by reassuring them that their identities will be respected upon their passing.”
AB 1577 will require the authority responsible for completing a transgender person’s death certificate to do so in a manner that reflects the person’s gender identity if the authority is presented appropriate documentation, such as written instructions from the deceased person confirming their wishes, an updated birth certificate or driver’s license, or evidence of medical treatment for gender transition. In the absence of these documents, the gender reported by the person’s legal next of kin would be used.
Current law requires death certificates to list personal data such as name, sex and race, but there is no legal guidance about how the official filling out the death certificate should determine a transgender person’s sex. This means sometimes the information on the death certificate is not consistent with the deceased’s lived gender, and 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. Additionally, when a transgender person is wrongly gendered upon their passing, whether on official documents or in the media, it is not only disrespectful to the deceased person but also to fellow transgender community members, for whom witnessing that kind of mis-gendering can be tremendously painful and stigmatizing.
The bill drew inspiration from the passing of Christopher Lee, a San Francisco artist and transgender advocate who was mis-gendered after his death in 2012. Lee was born female but had long identified and expressed himself as a transgender man. Unfortunately, the coroner wrongly identified Lee as female on his death certificate, despite his driver’s license that correctly showed his sex as male.
“I am excited to see this bill become law. At a time when we were mourning the loss of our dear family friend, we had to endure the pain of seeing him and his legacy be disrespected,” said Lee’s close friend Chino Scott-Chung. “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else’s family or friends.”
Transgender Law Center works to change law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression.
Equality California (EQCA) is the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization in California. For more than a decade, Equality California has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to a state with some of the most comprehensive human rights protections in the nation. Equality California has partnered with legislators to successfully sponsor 96 pieces of pro-equality legislation. EQCA continues to advance equality through legislative advocacy, electoral work, public education and community empowerment.