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More than half of trans, non-binary people misgendered in death by officials, research suggests

In the study, the researchers specifically noted some barriers – i.e. the lack of training of those recording the deaths; the exclusion of gender identity in data collected by coroners/medical examiners; and the power given the next-of-kin, who may not support the dead person’s gender identity.

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More than half of transgender and non-binary people are misgendered in death by officials. This is according to a study – “Transgender and Nonbinary Deaths Investigated by the State Medical Examiner in the Portland, Oregon, Metro Area and Their Concordance With Vital Records, 2011-2021” by Jaime K. Walters, Molly C. Mew, and Kimberly K. Repp – that appeared in the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice.

For this study, the researchers identified 51 deaths in transgender people in the tri-county area of the US from January 2011 through September 2021. They then used the narrative section of the medical examiner reports, and then compared this with the official death certificates for 47 of the deaths.

According to the researchers, ideally, the information in the two systems should match identically. But they found that there was no concordance between the two. In fact, 29 out of 47 (which is more than half) were misgendered on their death certificates. The highest error rate occurred in transgender women – i.e. of the 33 transgender females who died during at the time of the study, 20 were identified as male on their death certificates.

“What we learned will likely alarm anyone who identifies as transgender or nonbinary – or anyone who cares about the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people,” said Kimberly Repp, study co-author. “When a population is not counted, it is erased.”

In the study, the researchers specifically noted some barriers – i.e. the lack of training of those recording the deaths; the exclusion of gender identity in data collected by coroners/medical examiners; and the power given the next-of-kin, who may not support the dead person’s gender identity, and yet still have the power to declare the sex on the death certificate of the deceased (a process also known as “nonconsensual detransitioning”).

To better the system, the researchers recommended the following:

  • Enact laws that mandate recording of gender identity. This will hopefully reduce nonconsensual detransitioning after death.
  • Include gender identity as a field on death certificates. This means that sex assigned at birth shouldn’t be the only identifier.
  • Train death investigators, funeral directors, et cetera on how and why to collect gender identity information.
  • Give funeral directors power to use gender identifying documentation enacted by the deceased prior to death specifying their gender identity. This means that reliance solely on next of kin is limited, if not removed.

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