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Proposed law in California would ensure transgender people die as they lived

Respect After Death Act calls for authentic gender identity to be reflected on death certificates
Toni_Atkins
Photo: California State Assembly

California Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins introduced a bill on Thursday (30 January) that would ensure the authentic gender identity of a transgender person be reflected on their death certificate.

If passed into law, the Respect After Death Act would require that the authority responsible for completing the transgender person's death certificate adhere to documentation of their gender identity such as an updated birth certificate or driver's license.

'Once we are deceased, we are often at the mercy of others to treat us with dignity,' said Atkins, a lesbian who also authored the historic School Success and Opportunity Act.

'For transgender people, their gender identity may not be consistently recognized after death by family, friends and even officials,' said Atkins (pictured). 'This bill provides an objective way to make sure that a transgender person’s gender will be correctly identified after they pass on.'

In addition to a birth certificate or driver's license, other documentation could include written instructions from the deceased person confirming their wishes or evidence of medical treatment for gender transition.

If these documents are not available, the gender reported by the person’s legal next of kin will be used.

Supporters of the bill point out that current state 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.

'Transgender people face horrific rates of discrimination and violence,” said Masen Davis, executive director of Transgender Law Center which is co-sponsoring the bill along with Equality California. 'The very least we can do is ensure folks 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.'

Atkins leadership could help ensure success in the legislature since she is poised to become the next speaker of the California Assembly at the end of the year.

She will be seeking to replicate the success she had with The School Success and Opportunity Act, which went into effect in January. That law requires students to have access to school facilities that match their gender identity.

Atkins also teamed up with the Transgender Law Center and Equality California to get a bill passed and signed into law that removed significant barriers transgender people face in getting identity documents changed to accurately reflect their gender.

The law removed some of the most outdated, invasive, and expensive steps from the processes and improved access to legal name changes and identity documents that accurately reflect gender identity.

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