According to studies from the Center for American Progress, more than one in 10 LGBTQ+ people say they have been mistreated by a health-care provider. This includes disrespecting families and treating the patients themselves with callous disregard. Combine this with still-fresh memories of doctors refusing to treat AIDS patients in the 80s and 90s. This resulted in millions losing their lives.
As a result of both recent and not-so-ancient history, many in the queer community continue to distrust health-care providers. Some avoid medical care altogether. Those numbers are even higher for the trans community. Homelessness, disease and sexual assault remain at dangerously high numbers.
This community desperately needs advocates, especially in their final days. Well-informed and loving death doulas can provide such advocacy and care.
Since Monday, October 11, is National Coming Out Day, let’s delve into new ways of thinking. This idea that people can choose their own ending, and die an empowered and peaceful death. This especially benefits LGBTQ+ people.
Death, or end-of-life, doulas can:
Spend time and energy educating medical and health-care teams.
When someone is actively dying, they don’t have an endless supply of time or energy. Bodies shut down. People feel exhausted and sleep more often than usual. As a result, at the end of life, clients rarely want to waste what has become precious resources. They’d rather spend remaining time and energy on loved ones. Someone else needs to educate their medical team. Someone they trust.
Doulas fill that void.
We effectively explain our client’s positionality and any other information that doctors might not readily understand. Doulas make sure a client’s partner is treated as a partner. Nothing less. When we educate and provide awareness, this often leads to more respect and reliable care.
Despite more tolerant state and federal laws, all is not perfect. Bigotry didn’t just evaporate. Unfortunately, stereotypes, discrimination, hate crimes and other acts of violence are a daily occurrence for the queer community.
Health care workers are like any other professionals. They can be uninformed at best. At worst, they’re homophobic. Even if they don’t harbor resentment toward LGBTQ+ patients, many are woefully ignorant. Nurses and doctors oftentimes do not possess adequate knowledge to treat these specific needs.
A queer-informed death doula encourages more open-minded thinking. We explain our client’s background and history in a way that encourages tolerance and acceptance within people who might otherwise be stand-offish. A loving death doula builds bridges. We see to it that our clients receive the respect and quality treatment they deserve.
Create a space that doesn’t center on a traditional, nuclear family.
For centuries, when people came out, they were greeted with derision. Many families, religious or otherwise, would disown or abandon them. This resulted in queer folks making different kinds of families for themselves.
The last decade has seen much improvement in the way that nuclear families, and the greater community, respond to relatives when they come out. Yet alternative families continue to thrive. Sometimes a person feels more acceptance from their chosen loved ones than from the families into which they were born. Especially if those families continue clinging to outdated views of homosexuality, gender fluidity or anything that isn’t familiar to them.
Compared with the straight community, queer folks are also less likely to be married or parents. They aren’t as likely to be supported by traditional structures. Therefore, especially at the end of life, they need a doula who understands that one size doesn’t fit all.
This includes respecting different kinds of partnerships and romantic relationships.
For instance, someone who is ethically non-monogamous may have multiple partners but only one wife or husband. Doulas are famously nonjudgmental. We hold everyone in unconditional positive regard. This is especially true with marginalized communities.
Therefore, a death doula elevates LGBTQ+ families in a loving and inclusive manner. Estranged or confused family members benefit from these cues. At the end of life, we’ve seen walls come down. It’s a time for coming together, making amends and, for many, that includes forgiveness. A doula models that appropriate mood and energy.
Understand the needs specific to this community.
Doulas gently help with many aspects of death work that requires sensitivity.
For example, perhaps a gender-nonconforming person does not want their body washed by strangers. They might only want a partner or spouse to see them post-death. Another person might want to ensure their recognized name and true gender is listed on their death certificate. What about grave markers? How do we make sure their correct name is listed? And do LGBTQ+ veterans still enjoy the right to be buried in a national cemetery?
These are all important questions that an advocating death doula can help answer. Click here for more information about trans rights post death.
Does a death doula need to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community to be effective?
It certainly would be helpful and comforting to the queer community if more queer doulas existed. In the meantime, training is available for straight death doulas. There are many organizations that specialize in educating doulas in LGBTQ+ sensitivity. Then those doulas can list their certifications and identify as queer-informed on their websites.
This signals an awareness and eagerness to serve the LGBTQ+ community.
As an end-of-life care provider, make sure you:
- Focus on the client.
- Practice non-judgmental support.
- Understand that discrimination takes a toll.
- Spend time with the client to identify specific needs.
- Coordinate between caregivers and helpful volunteers, family members and supportive friends.
- Provide appropriate community resources.
- Help clients self-advocate.
- Provide an atmosphere of dignity and love.
- Affirm the identities of the people you serve.
- Honor and help serve your dying person’s wishes.
- Ensure a death aligned with what the client wants.