Sunday, March 13, 2011

Via Belirico: Invisible at Death

Death Certificates in Washington State do not count gay, lesbian, bisexual deathcert.jpgor transgender people, and Washington is not alone. There is not a single state in this country recording this data. This is problematic for several reasons.
For example: Local, state, and national governments get a huge amount of data from death certificates. Trends become clear by gender, age, location, etc from causes of death when the data is available. Is cancer higher in women in Washington State than men? Are older people more likely to die from the flu? Do seat belt laws prevent automobile accident deaths? The list goes on and on.

For LGBT people, it is incredibly difficult to make those conclusion because they are invisible at death. Death certificates do not include any information about sexual orientation or gender identity.
This is a public health issue. Are gay people more likely to commit suicide? Do lesbians have the same heart disease rates as heterosexual women? Are committed gay couples more likely to live longer? Do states with more inclusive laws have healthier LGBTs than states that discriminate? What are the murder rates of Trans people?

These questions need answers, but if we do not have the data how can we even begin to tackle the solutions?

In Washington State, LGBT folks are a protected class. We are supposed to be included equally throughout our legal framework. We can begin to gather the data by adding two markers on the death certificate, "sexual orientation" and "gender identity". It is a simple fix that should be completed as soon as possible.

At a national level, the CDC needs to issue a requirement to states to collect data on LGBT deaths, so localities that do not recognize LGBTs under law will find it far more convenient to change their death certificates than to continue to ignore us.

It is bad enough that some of us remain invisible during parts of our lives, we should not be re-closeted for our eternal rest.