Trans Filmmaker’s Suicide Spurs Bill For Accurate Trans Death Certificates


The suicide and posthumous misgendering of transgender filmmaker and activist Christopher Lee (pictured left) has compelled California Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (pictured right) to introduce a state bill that would reflect a transgender person’s chosen gender identity on their death certificate.

Lee — who was the first female-to-male Grand Marshal of San Francisco’s 2002 Pride Parade and founded the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival — committed suicide on December 22, 2012. But when his death certificate arrived, it had his female birth name on it and listed his gender as female, even though Lee’s driver’s license said male.

This happened in part because Lee did not undergo gender reassignment surgery (it's cost-prohibitive, not always covered by insurance and not always worthwhile to some trans people), and because of antiquated state laws.

The California Report explains:

Lieutenant Riddic Bowers of the Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau. He says a driver’s license is not enough to override anatomy. An updated birth certificate would work, but that requires a court order. And until 2012 getting a court order meant getting surgery.

“Barring that, we have to rely on the documentation that exists, someone’s existing birth certificate and their correlating anatomical description,” Bowers says.

Family opinion is also a factor, and, under current law, next-of-kin has the final word. This is controversial. Many transgender people are estranged from relatives who are uncomfortable with their gender transition.

Lee wasn't in close contact with his family…

Atkins bill would change two key things. First, it would require coroners and funeral directors to record a person’s gender identify rather than anatomical sex. Second, if there’s a dispute, a driver’s license or passport would be sufficient legal documentation to trump family opinion.

If such documents are unavailable, the deceased’s next of kin will decide the gender. 

Atkins’ bill — known as Assembly Bill 1577 or the Respect After Death Act — was filed on January 30, 2014 and is sponsored by Transgender Law Center and Equality California.


  1. Vint says

    Substituting gender identity for anatomical sex is going to cause nothing but problems for coroners and accurate record keeping.

    When the death certificate says female and a penis is discovered at autopsy, there will have to be some reconciliation between the facts and the asserted sex.

    What’s needed is to include both gender identity and anatomical sex, not to substitute one for the other.

  2. Santo says

    This case is a good illustration of the fact that trans people are very likely to kill themselves. And “transitioning” doesn’t help. Even after “transitioning”, the suicide rate remains extremely high.

    This transman not only transitioned, but lived in a liberal state with full anti-discrimination protections. Lee was apparently very connected to the “trans community,” was involved with a trans film festival, and was even the marshal of the SF Pride Parade. But none of that mattered.

    All the legal protections and the political coddling and the community “support” couldn’t stop the suicide. Because trans suicides do not result from a lack of support or from external oppression. No, the suicide and the many other dysfunctional aspects of trans life come from within. CA should be appropriating money to help trans people deal with the underlying mental illness and worry less about what box gets checked on a death certificate.

  3. Thedrdonna says

    @santo: Transitioning unquestionably improves trans people’s lives. The majority of studies have found that trans folk who transition are much happier afterward, and that suicide rates drop dramatically. That said, they do remain higher than the general population, but we’re a downtrodden minority, what do you expect? Also, those same outcomes aren’t found for people who are solely provided with mental health treatment. The general consensus among the medical community is that transitioning is the only effective treatment for severe gender dysphoria.

    And you’re kidding yourself if you think that living in the Bay Area means a trans person faces no discrimination.

  4. Randy says

    “Trans Filmmaker”

    OK. I like film. Where’s the filmography? I do know that Christopher’s Chronicles is a 1996 film about his transition.

    By the way, don’t hide the truth. When Christopher co-founded the film festival with Alex Austin, it was called the Tranny Fest. And one of his films in 1998 was Alley of the Tranny Boys.

    So apparently that makes him a self-hating anti-trans bigot. I expect GLAAD to protest the funeral. Right? (eyeroll)

  5. Randy says

    Reading my comment in context with some others, just to be clear, my eyeroll is at GLAAD, not Christopher.

  6. Critifur says

    Maybe records should reflect that a person is trans instead of just male or female, or as Vint says, a person’s gender identity as well as biological anatomy. It is one thing to be treat people they way they want to be treated, it is another to keep accurate records, but both are important.

  7. Santo says

    Randy – Thanks for that comment. Tranny Fest! Lol! Funny how a commonly used word was converted into an excuse to get outraged. What a bunch of hypocrites. Just like Janet Mock attacking Piers Morgan for using the phrase “born a man” when it later comes out that Mock used he exact phrase in an an article. Trans activism and hypocrisy go hand in hand.

    Sorry Dr. Donna, suicide rates do not drop dramatically after transition. Almost nothing positively and dramatically impacts trans suicide rates. Small gains can be made here and there, but basically 1000 fully transitioned transfolk living in San Francisco are going to have a suicide rate roughly the same as 1000 people who don’t transition and who live in Biloxi. The problem isn’t surgery or location or being “downtrodden”. It is mental illness.

    BTW, there is no evidence that Lee suffered any discrimination in San Fran. And while of course that can happen even in San Fran, it is less likely there than in most places in the US. And when it does happen, legal remedies are available as is an extensive support network. And yet, despite the transition, despite the legal protections, despite being plugged into a support network, he still killed himself. Same thing happened a few years ago to an LA sports writer. Transitioned, got full support, no discrimination from his employer, then de-transitioned, then killed himself. Things that make you go hmmmm. . .

  8. MaryM says

    He’s dead.

    What does it matter to him what the certificate said?

    Or is this just another excuse for trannies to be outraged at nothing?

  9. Thedrdonna says

    Santo: of course suicide rates drop. That’s really why doctors are willing to prescribe such a radical treatment, is because the drop from 20-20% to about 5%.

    And yes, you’re right, there hasn’t been any media coverage of the discrimination he may have faced, the family who may have rejected him, the friends he might have lost. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

  10. Liam says

    maryM: Why are you so heartless and harsh? What skin do you have in this game? Your comments on here are always nasty and cold. Using the internet to get out your own unhappy life problems is a type of abuse. Get some help. You really need it.

  11. Thedrdonna says

    @Santo: DeCuypere, 2006: Long-Term Followup: Psychosocial Outcomes of Belgian Transsexuals.

    He found that suicide attempt rates dropped from 29.3% to 5.1%.

    And, pointing out typing errors is a pretty good sign you don’t have any sort of valid defense. A quick check found 4 or so errors in your posts on this page, but identifying them and especially trying to use them to discount your point would be tedious and feeble.