Charmian Alexander, Director at Neville Funerals, explains how for her, and the business, Pride Month is important to support and be seen to be supporting. But more crucial is the need to communicate within the industry and with customer groups and communities that LGBTQ+ clients and their families can trust a Funeral Director completely to help deliver the funeral that the deceased wants and deserves. That a celebration of life means just that – regardless of sexual orientation, gender and personal identity and that confidentiality will be fully observed.
It is always a positive experience to support annual Pride Month. I think it is a joyous event, one for celebrating identity, individuality and affirming the gloriously diverse make up of our communities. But it is all too short, a month is never enough, there’s too much still to say and debate to be had. There shouldn’t be a start and stop time for the conversation surrounding all things inclusive. It’s a discussion that needs to continued, because as Funeral Directors, it’s part of our role to do that and share our approach and learning with customers and communities.
We are often looked upon as a very traditional industry, certainly that’s true and our outward appearance perhaps supports that view – sombre suits and black hearses underline that impression. But as a business, we know that we represent the whole community, and we are, by the nature of our profession empathetic and compassionate.
We have encountered families that feel that a traditional funeral means that they, and their departed loved one, have to comply with an unspoken expectation when it comes to a funeral – that conformity to a traditional norm has to be observed in this matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although I do understand that some religious beliefs and practices can also add another layer of influence and indeed choice. The funeral is an opportunity to celebrate someone’s life and I love to see personalised funerals where families have really embraced their loved ones wishes and proudly talked about their life to us to help us plan an event which is as unique as them.
It is pretty depressing to see that UK surveys done in 2014 and then in 2018, of LGBTQ+ adults, noted that about a quarter in both surveys, 4 years apart, expected to face prejudice and barriers relating to their sexual identity, when planning a funeral.
I hope that we have moved on far further in the last four years – in terms of direct and visible support. Certainly, clients are more open now about their preferences and wants and we need to do more to encourage such openness. But, there are areas where we need to be super vigilant.
When I think back to my early days in the profession and well before civil partnerships and same sex marriages, it really upset me that some people felt they could not be open about the relationship that they had with the person whose funeral they were arranging, for fear of being ‘judged’. The same was true regarding those from the trans community, whose transgender status had not been shared with the wider family and could not be revealed so then particular details, even down to how the deceased wanted to be dressed, had to be confidential and respectfully managed. Privacy still has to be everyone’s right.
Thankfully we have come a very long way since then!
SAIF and NAFD members are bound by a Code of Practice which requires all to “treat as confidential all information obtained in relation to their clients and carry out their duties with total regard for the laws of privacy and data protection”.
Better information from the funeral industry, more widely disseminated amongst LGBTQ+ communities could help. And the industry has its own LGBTQ+ staff to support. I am so pleased that in 2020 the NAFD launched an Equality and Diversity Initiative, NAFD Pride, to promote inclusivity in our workplaces and to provide a platform to all members to share their experiences, now adding a Facebook page.
I was reading through funeral professional, Ash Hayhurst’s Making Informed Choices When Planning A Funeral: A Guide for Queer People, and thought it inspired and a must read for the industry and clients alike. Certainly, it raised a lot of questions in my mind about how we best educate our own teams. Bravo Ash!
We have to have the answers expected of us. Be better aware of inclusive language to use, be able to advise about the legal position of a change of name, how to register a death with a used rather than given name, understanding that some may have Gender Recognition Certificates. The administrative processes are complex and many and we need to be able to advise and support.
What we do is always about everybody, every individual – their rights to have a funeral that respects and reflects their life, and their choices.