When COVID-19 first hit Chicago in 2020, essential worker Elias Renaud texted his sister and a good bus friend on his way home from his job at the grocery store.

“If something happens to me, that’s where I want things to go, that’s what I want to do,” Renaud, who uses the pronouns he/he, remembers telling them.

A 44-year-old transgender man from Edgewater made his living will with the cautious hope that when he died his body would be treated with dignity.

“I think by the time I die, there will be a lot of people doing d*ath work who will have experience with trans bodies, be transgender or non-binary themselves,” he said.

For transgender people like Renaud, as well as for non-binary people, life comes with its own set of difficulties. But also d*ath.

As the deceased care industry grapples with changing cultural attitudes and questions about how to respectfully bury those who identify as transgender or non-binary, a South Side-based LGBTQ community hub called Brave Space Alliance is set to begin its final installment Project’s Dignity Project this month, completing an umbrella of services that are “mainly aimed at preventing violence and upholding dignity in our communities,” said interim CEO Jae Rice, whose pronouns are he/they.

The project includes $400 microgrants for Chicagoland transgender people, a name change clinic, and a funeral fund that will donate up to $6,000 to cover funeral and b*rial costs for transgender people. They say the funeral fund is the first of its kind in the country. And starting this month, Rice said Project Dignity will be providing living wills to transgender people in the area as well.

“So when they die, they’ll have something written down to show how they want to be buried, how they want to be portrayed, what they want to be buried in, what they want to be called – all that kind of stuff,” Rice said.

Repeated interviews with experts revealed how end-of-life issues become more apparent for transgender and non-binary people, including dead names, wrong genders, gender d*ath custody and legal documentation, and how they play out in different institutional environments: funeral homes, doctor’s office, media and more.

“Deadnameming refers to when you refer to a transgender or non-binary person by a name they no longer use. It is often their family name or it can be their given name. This happens on purpose or by accident – the intention sometimes doesn’t matter,” said Aster Gilbert, Head of Communications at Equity.

Misgendering similarly refers to when a person is referred to as a gender they do not identify with. A transgender or non-binary person’s name and gender may not match their name and gender designations due to costly and time-consuming legal changes and the anxiety and emotional distress that having their name published in a newspaper can cause.

“If there is a person who has been found (dead) and you only have their legal records, this may not reflect who that person actually is because we are all required to have state and federal legal records that may have nothing to do with our realities that we live in,” said Gilbert, whose pronouns are she/they.

In a statement to the Tribune, the Cook County Coroner’s Office said it “treats each deceased in our care with dignity and respect. Losing a loved one is a tragedy in itself. When a transgender person dies without updated official records, their loved ones may face additional challenges that make the loss even more painful.”

That said, the medical examiner’s office follows guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health. “The gender of the deceased is stated on the d*ath certificate or d*ath certificate because the person was officially registered while alive,” the statement reads. “So, if she was entered, for example, as a woman in official documents (e.g. birth certificate, driving license), then she must be entered as such at the time of d*ath … We are very sensitive to the concerns of transgender people and their relatives, and we will make every effort to ensure that respect their wishes to the extent that we are permitted by law.”

In 2021, the state health department’s Illinois Vital Records Division added a new option to its system: the “X” gender marker on d*ath certificates, which is printed as non-binary.

But while gender markers on Illinois passports and birth certificates also allow people to choose a gender-neutral option, according to Illinois Legal Aid Online, this is not yet the case for driving licences. Although Governor JB Pritzker approved a measure in 2019 to put non-binary gender tags on driver’s licenses and state ID cards, the new option won’t be available until the Secretary of State’s current contract with the technology provider expires in 2024.

Rice said Brave Space Alliance and Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation will work with the Cook County Medical Forensic Bureau and Funeral Homes to ensure that transgender people are not mistaken for their gender or named dead in end-of-life care.

“That’s something our community doesn’t have the pleasure or privilege to think about, it’s aftercare. We’re just trying to survive now,” Rice said. “Starting the Dignity Project is about instilling dignity while you’re here. And after d*ath too.

Working on d*ath is necessary, especially for the trans community, said Phoenix Kelley, a d*ath doula from Jackson, Michigan whose pronouns are they/they.

“Many funeral directors will comply with the wishes of the family of origin, which often means a trans person is gender mismatched, has a dead name, is dressed in a gender they did not identify with when viewed, and is listed as such in their obituary.” said Kelley. . “So one of the things I’m trying to do is normalize thinking about what you want your d*ath to be like and after d*ath.”

Kim Sabella, manager of the Wolfersberger Funeral Home in O’Fallon, Illinois, near St. Louis, said she recently encountered a situation where parents referred to a child who had just died using pronouns, while some friends and peers of the deceased person used the pronouns they/them to refer to them. So she had to take a step back and confirm which pronouns the deceased had preferred in life.

“The bigger issue is that we all need to be more sensitive and aware in our workplaces. So don’t be afraid to ask questions sometimes,” Sabella said. “I think we just need to stop making assumptions about everyone, especially people who are already disenfranchised… We just need to be nicer people. And I think it’s just more important than ever before. Especially when we encounter (others) in the midst of grief and loss.”

Kelley, the doula of d*ath, strongly recommends transgender and non-binary people to create a care document at the end of life that lists the person who has permission to make medical decisions, and that this document be signed and notarized to make it a legal document.

“Even before I started training as a d*ath doula, I knew that making a will or other end-of-life document was really important,” they say.

Offer from the Illinois Department of Public Health Online resources people who want to draw up an order, appoint a health care attorney or make a living will.

At the Center on Halsted, Len DeWilde of the Transmasculine Alliance Chicago conducts a workshop on the legal steps trans and non-binary people can take to preserve their identity in the event of d*ath. This includes sharing information about various forms and markings that can be filled out, “especially if your next of kin are either unaware of your gender identity, wishes, or are afraid that they will actively try to undo it at your d*ath,” said DeWilde, whose pronouns are he / he. He said the next workshop would probably take place in December or January.

But for some, digging into these documents can be daunting.

“Conversations about what I’d like to happen when I leave have been going on for a while now, but when it comes to putting it on paper – I think that’s where a lot of the fear comes in,” said Chicago’s Sydney Kamuda, 25. -year-old non-binary artist whose pronouns are they/they. “It’s another scary idea that you’re entering a space where I’ll have to explain my pronouns again and why I look a certain way.”

Kelley said one of the reasons d*ath work is necessary is because of the rate at which trans people are killed – especially trans people of color.

“We have this kind of community knowledge that it’s very possible that we’re going to die, and especially die suddenly, but it can be scary to take the time to prepare for that,” Kelley said. “Even for me, because it makes it feel more real.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 32 transgender people were fatally shot or brutally killed so far in the United States in 2022. At least two trans women were killed in Chicago, including Martasia Richmond in June and Tatiana Labelle in March.

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“We say ‘at least’ because all too often these stories go unreported – or are misreported,” the Human Rights Campaign notes on its website. “In previous years, most of these people were Black and Hispanic transgender women.”

Since the Campaign for Human Rights began tracking incidents of deadly violence against transgender people in 2013, it has recorded 12 d*aths in Chicago, all involving black transgender women.

Rice said transgender naming and gender misrepresentation translates into an inaccurate number of transgender d*aths and a consequent inability to fully understand the violence transgender people face — “because so many transgender d*aths are not attributed as d*aths.” transgender people.”

“But when we don’t know that these people who are dying are actually transgender people, how are we going to get to any real liberation?” Rice asked.

Non-binary artist Kamuda, who was 16 when their father died from complications of lung c*ncer, said this near-d*ath experience made them reflect on their own mortality. They said that d*ath is one of the single unifying factors in every person’s life.

“The main thing I think about is how I’m being treated now and how I’ll be treated when I’m gone,” said Kamuda. “My only hope is that I have people around me who will support me.”

adperez@chicagotribune.com

#Chicagos #transgender #nonbinary #community #struggles #d*ath #planning

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