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Grief reactions associated with the death of an LGBTIQ+ partner

Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or queer people have supportive birth families who recognise their queer relationships. In this instance, they may have the support of their family as they experience grief after the loss of a partner. Other people, however, have complex or challenging relationships with their birth families and instead rely on the support and love from their community. Some, unfortunately, are not able to seek support at all due to social isolation or being ‘in the closet’ or not yet ‘out.

It is important to keep in mind that the people within LGBTIQ+ communities are not all the same but are people with a range of different and varied experiences. Nonetheless, most members of these communities will face additional things that cause stress within their grief journey. For example:

  • some gay or queer relationships are not recognised at all by the family members they grew up with, which means that a partner may not be included in the funeral arrangements or grieving period. They may not be fully recognised as being an important part of the deceased’s life in the way that a straight partner would be. This can be very distressing and lead to unrecognised or hidden grief
  • if a bereaved partner is not ‘out’, or openly identifying as LGBTIQ+, they may be hesitant to seek formal or informal support in their grief journey. Even if a person is comfortable disclosing their sexuality or gender identity, it is well known that people within this community face heteronormativity (that is, assumptions that all partnered or sexual relationships are made of a man and a woman) and homophobia when seeking help. These things can include people making assumptions about the gender of a partner, being confused about the status of a relationship, asking inappropriate/irrelevant questions about a person’s sexual practices, family structure, or gender status, or showing fear, dislike, or aggression in interactions with the bereaved person. When things like this happen, it can cause further distress and lead to a hesitance in looking for help in the future
  • the death of a partner may be the first time that family or other supports become aware of this important relationship. This may inadvertently reveal a grieving individual’s sexual or gender identity to family or others. Managing the ‘coming out’ process whilst also grieving can be incredibly stressful and isolating
  • as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer relationships and identities are sometimes misunderstood or invalidated, the level of grief associated with this loss may not be recognised
  • the lack of historical financial and legal recognition of non-heterosexual relationships or of relationships involving people who are non-binary/gender fluid (who don’t identify as exclusively male or female) or non-cisgender (whose gender identity differs from that assigned at birth) may lead to complications around next of kin and wills or estate processes
  • the cause of death may be particularly relevant to individuals within the LGBTIQ+ communities, such as suicide, AIDS or homicide. Due to ongoing discrimination and oppression, this community also faces rates of unnatural death higher than those of the general population (particularly the transgender and gender-varied communities). Sometimes, these causes of death can increase feelings of being alone and vulnerable in the bereaved as they face stigma or at times insensitive curiosity from others in the general population

Coping With The Death Of A LGBTIQ+ Partner

  • because it is likely that a bereaved partner will have previously experienced homophobia or heteronormativity, it is important that family, friends, and services providers show their unquestioning acceptance of LGBTIQ identities and relationships to promote help-seeking behaviour. For service providers, this can include actions such as displaying a pride flag sticker, using gender neutral language or asking for preferred pronouns, and adding an ‘other’ box on forms asking for gender information (or removing the need to ask for gender at all if not relevant)
  • a grieving partner may be able to participate in a separate memorial service with supporting community and family
  • services specific to LGBTIQ+ people may be relevant to provide support

Other Resources

Solace Australia: South Australia Barossa Valley Solace Group   Page last updated: 11 September, 2020