How grief affects the LGBTQ+ community

We're reflecting on how we can support our LGBTQ+ clients.

By Beth Watson · June 21, 2021

While great strides have been made towards equality in recent years, many LGBTQ+ people experience discrimination when dealing with a death. In fact, a survey of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults found that “24% expected to face barriers relating to their sexual identity when planning a funeral.” For the LGBTQ+ community, grief brings about a unique set of challenges.

Challenges for the LGBTQ+ community after a bereavement

Disenfranchised grief

When someone dies, people often focus their support on the person’s partner or closest relatives. But if family or friends do not accept the sexuality of the person who died this can leave same-sex partners being excluded from the grieving process. This is called disenfranchised grief.

We’ve heard from clients who’ve had to sit at the back of their partner’s funeral or have been referred to as their spouse’s “friend” following their death. Experiences like this can make the grieving process more difficult, and have a long-term impact on mental health.

Misgendering

For trans and non-binary people, there are a number of barriers to acquiring legal documentation that reflects their gender identity. In death, this can lead to healthcare workers or funeral practitioners misgendering or “deadnaming” them (calling them by a name they used before they transitioned). For friends and family, this can be particularly distressing at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Exclusion of “chosen families”

Members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to be estranged from their relatives and instead rely on a close network of friends. This is often referred to as a “chosen family.” Families of origin may not accept this friendship network and exclude them from funeral planning or memorialising the person. It’s important that all those who were close to the person are included in the grieving process and are able to pay their respects.

Multiple bereavements

Older LGBTQ+ people who lived through the HIV/AIDS pandemic, are more likely to have lost multiple friends or partners. Rates of suicide are also higher among LGBTQ+ youth which may also mean experiencing multiple, and often traumatic, bereavements. This is more likely to complicate the grieving process.

As an LGBT champion for Cruse and senior Director, I am committed to ensuring Cruse is there for everyone and that includes making sure the specific needs of LGBT community are understood. I want people to feel they can talk to us about what their bereavement means to them without fear or judgement.

Lucy Hastings

Cruse Director of Services

lucy hastings cruse director of services

Improving our services

In December, we held a roundtable with a number of LGBTQ+ organisations to learn more about how we can support clients of diverse genders and sexualities. Using this insight, we’re making changes to training and resources to better support LGBTQ+ people through grief.

We’re also improving our policies around Equality and Diversity, with commitment from the Board to make Cruse an even better place for our LGBTQ+ clients. This year, we also completed a survey of all our staff and volunteers to find out how we can build a more inclusive Cruse.

Getting support

Our volunteers are trained to work with all types of bereavement and can help you understand grief better, no matter what you’re going through. Find out the ways we can support you.

There are also a number of national organisations that run specialist peer support groups for LGBTQ+ people: