(Sacramento) Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins has introduced legislation that will ensure that the wishes of transgender people with respect to their gender identity are respected in the process of completing official death certificates. AB 1577 requires that death certificates reflect the gender on other official documents, such as a driver’s license or birth certificate, if the person had the document formally changed following a gender transition. If no such documents exist, legal next-of-kin will then be consulted by coroners and funeral home directors, who are responsible for completing these documents.
“A person should rest in peace after death as the same person they were during life,” says Atkins. “This bill is designed to ensure that the wishes of a transgender person regarding their gender identity are respected after they have passed on.”
Transitioning from one gender to the other can be a long and complicated process for a transgender person and it is not uncommon for a person to present externally as their preferred gender identity while retaining the private physical characteristics of the gender assigned to them at birth. This can lead to confusion at death if authorities have only the sometimes conflicting physical attributes to rely on. If a transgender person has taken steps to change their official documents, such as driver’s license or birth certificate, that is a reliable source of a person’s correct gender identity. AB 1577 will also reduce conflict among family and friends that sometimes occurs in these situations and will provide funeral directors and coroners with clear guidance on how to avoid legal repercussions for their decisions about the gender of a person who has passed on.
AB 1577 was inspired in part by the case of Christopher Lee of Alameda County, a transgender person and community activist who died in December of 2012. Despite his having transitioned from female to male, Lee retained much of his female anatomy. After a dispute among his family and friends, the coroner ultimately identified Lee as female on his birth certificate, despite the fact that Lee lived as a man.
AB 1577 is sponsored by Equality California and the Transgender Law Center. The bill will now be assigned to a policy committee for review, with a first hearing anticipated some time in March.
CONTACT: Dale Kelly Bankhead, 619.645.3090