On October 9, Jennifer Gabel, a customer service coordinator for Wells Fargo in Idaho, died suddenly of an aneurysm. Her friends and family, hoping for comfort and to honor her memory, attended her open-casket funeral. When they got there, they were horrified to see Jennifer with her hair cut short, in a suit, and being presented as the man she was before she legally transitioned into a woman.
According to the Miami Herald, no mention of Jennifer’s last few years living and working as a woman made its way into her online obituary, or onto her death certificate. Quotes to the Miami Herald from Jennifer’s friends say that Jennifer’s father was in charge of the formalities surrounding her death, and he erased her “authentic self” out of either “ignorance or arrogance.”
The Miami Herald article on Jennifer was published on November 21, 2014, just one day after the annual Transgender Awareness Week came to a close. According to GLAAD, Transgender Awareness Week strives to “raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people.” It appears especially tragic that on the eve of such an important week, Jennifer was denied her identity even in death.
Unfortunately, Jennifer’s case is only one in a long list of injustices perpetuated against transgender people. According to the Trans* Violence Tracker Portal, transgender people make up about 1.5% of the world’s population, but are 400 times more likely to be assaulted or murdered than the rest of the population. A study published in January 2014 by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that suicide attempts by transgender and other gender non-conforming people are “vastly higher” than that of the rest of the population, and more than twice as high as the number of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who reported suicide attempts. The same study says that over 50% of people who identify as transgender have experienced workplace harassment, been disrespected by a law enforcement official, been refused care by a doctor, or have been sexually abused. It is important to note that rates are higher in all categories for transgender people of color.
This means the larger LGBT+ community needs to especially look out for the people in their lives that are transgender or gender non-conforming. It means that we need to practice conscious activism, educate wherever possible, and never forget that just one voice can make a difference in someone’s life, whether it is confronting discrimination, or letting our friends know that they are not alone.
Jennifer Gabel died a woman, but was buried a man, in a complete erasure of her identity. Transgender Awareness Week only happens once a year, but raising visibility of transgender people should happen every single day.
Below are the sources I used, in case you would like to further educate yourself on the issues facing transgender and gender non-conforming people.
http://www.transviolencetracker.org/ (trigger warning for mentions of violence)
http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/AFSP-Williams-Suicide-Report-Final.pdf (trigger warnings for mentions of violence, suicide, self-harm, and general discrimination)