On Thursday, California State Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins introduced AB 1577, the "Respect After Death Act," a bill that would ensure the identities of transgender individuals are properly reflected on death certificates. The legislation would require the authority responsible for filing a person's death certificate to use the name and gender with which the deceased identified on that final document.
Atkins, who also introduced AB 1121 — a bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last October designed to make it easier for transgender individuals to update their identifying documents — recognizes that not all trans people will have had the time or resources to make these official changes. For this reason, AB 1577 leaves open a variety of ways one could instruct officials on the topic of their identity. If the deceased had updated other official documents, like a birth certificate or driver's license, that information would be used. If they had not formally updated these documents, a set of written instructions or proof of medical transition would suffice. In the event that none of these documents exist, the legal next-of-kin would be responsible for advising officials as to the wishes of the recently deceased.
"A person should rest in peace after death as the same person they were during life," Atkins said in a press release. "This bill is designed to ensure that the wishes of a transgender person regarding their gender identity are respected after they have passed on."
The Transgender Law Center and Equality California sponsored the legislation, giving the bill each organization's full support. "Transgender people face horrific rates of discrimination and violence," said Masen Davis, the Transgender Law Center's executive director in a blog post Thursday. "The very least we can do is ensure that folks are given basic humn dignity by honoring their authentic selves when they pass, so that more pain is not inflicted upon grieving loved ones or the community."
The bill was inspired in part by the case of Christopher Lee, a transgender man who died in 2012. Upon his death, a dispute broke out among family and friends over whether or not Lee should be identified as male or female on his death certificate. Ultimately, Lee's death certificate identified him as female, despite the fact that he lived his life and identified as a man.
The bill will be assigned to a committee within the General Assembly, with first hearings scheduled to begin in March.