Things to consider when planning your funeral wishes as an LGBTQIA+ person

This guide gives you some things to think about when planning your funeral as an LGBTQIA+ person, and how your options might vary depending on whether people know you’re LGBTQIA+.

Some LGBTQIA+ people will have particular wishes for what happens when they die. It’s important to make sure you communicate these to the right people, and that the right people can make decisions on your behalf.

People of all genders and sexualities should be treated with dignity and respect when accessing funeral care, but we know from experience that’s not always what happens.

Recording our wishes can help the people who love us to arrange meaningful, appropriate funerals, and advocate for our rights after we have died. 

We at GIRES hope this guidance from Farewill helps to improve the wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ people, and the people who support them

- Ash Hayhurst (he/him) from GIRES, photo by Fox Fisher

Why might your LGBTQIA+ identity influence your funeral wishes?

Funeral wishes are often very personal, and your LGBTQIA+ identity might affect them

Your identity might impact things like:

  • The people you'd like to attend your funeral

  • The name and pronouns people should use for you, including what they print on any headstones, memorial items, or orders of service, and the name they should register the death under

  • What clothes, makeup and other accessories you want to wear

  • Instructions about any gender-affirming items you’d like to use for packing, padding or binding (including prosthetics)

Planning the funeral event(s)

You can ask your loved ones to dress you however you like, and your funeral director should respect this

Your loved ones will usually select the outfit and give your clothing to the funeral director, including appropriate underwear. If you do not want to wear your own clothes, the funeral director will usually provide you with a plain robe to wear.

Content Warning:

This section contains descriptions of dressing people’s bodies after they die, which some people may find upsetting.

It will tend to be the funeral director who dresses you, as this can be a difficult process. But if your loved ones do want to help dress you, the funeral director will normally be able to offer guidance on how to do this. Your loved ones may also be able to style your makeup, hair and nails after you die. 

Some people’s bodies are especially fragile after they die, often resulting from the cause of death (e.g. if they were very unwell). In this case, the funeral director might not recommend dressing them in their own clothes. They might instead recommend laying the clothes over their body.

Funeral directors have lots of experience of dressing people who’ve died, and they will know how to do this respectfully. They should also respect your wishes for what you would like to wear, though there might be some practical things to bear in mind.

There might be some limits to what you can wear as you reach your final resting place

You can usually wear any gender-affirming items you’d normally use for packing or padding. It might be more difficult to dress you in a binder (a piece of clothing that flattens your chest), as this tends to be very tight. It’s usually easier for the funeral director to use bandages or medical tape instead.

If you’d like a cremation, there are some materials that most crematoriums will not allow you to wear. This is usually because they do not burn properly, or produce harmful gases when they do.

These include:

  • Rubber or PVC, including shoes with rubber soles

  • Some plastics and metals, including some medical devices

  • Most types of glitter

If you’re having a burial in a traditional cemetery, you can usually wear whatever you like. But if you’re choosing a natural burial, the funeral director might ask that you only wear natural fibres, like cotton. This is because synthetic fibres tend not to decompose as quickly, and might damage the environment.

If you usually wear rubber or plastic prosthetics, but you’d like a cremation or natural burial, your funeral director might be able to help. They can help your loved ones find prosthetics made of different materials that will suit a cremator or natural burial site.

If there’s an item that you’d like your loved ones to bury or cremate you with, but it does not seem to be possible, you might prefer to pass it onto someone instead. This could be a good way of helping them come to terms with your death, as well as giving them something to remember you by.

How to give a gift in your Will

Want to leave a loved one a prized possession? Make sure to be specific in your description of the item, to avoid arguments or confusion down the line.

You can shape your funeral to suit the identities of you and your loved ones

A funeral can be traditional, modern, religious, non-religious, a celebration of life, or a combination of all these things.

If you’re LGBTQIA+, you might have some loved ones who are also LGBTQIA+, and who may be uncomfortable in traditionally-gendered clothing. To help everyone feel comfortable, you could specify a dress code that is less gender-specific. So instead of specifying options for men and women, you might give a more universal suggestion - e.g. ‘all black, semi-formal’, or ‘wear something red (Alex’s favourite colour.)’

You could also arrange for other aspects of the funeral to reflect your LGBTQIA+ identity. This might be via things like:

  • Putting something personal on the coffin, like a particular painting or ornament

  • Sharing images or playing a memorial video

  • Playing your favourite songs by LGBTQIA+ artists

  • Making a memory jar, where your loved ones write down happy memories of your life and put them in a special jar

You also do not need to pick between types of funeral - for example, you could have a traditional funeral, but with some modern touches. This could include things like a more colourful dress code, or music from your favourite band.

Go out with a bang

There are lots of unique things your loved ones can do with your ashes, including getting someone to make them into a personalised firework!

Most funerals are public events, so it can be difficult to stop particular people from attending

But you can also ask your loved ones not to invite certain people, or that the event is not publicly advertised. This should minimise the chances of unwanted guests.

If you think your funeral might attract unwanted media attention, you might ask that your loved ones do not speak to any media that might be present. If you’re trans or gender diverse, you could point your loved ones to Trans Media Watch: an organisation set up to support trans people and their loved ones on dealing with the media.

Communicating your wishes

Your executor is the person who is legally responsible for organising your funeral

Your executors are specific people you name in your will as being able to make decisions on your behalf, and they usually make decisions about your funeral too.

This can include things like:

  • What you wear

  • Who gets an invitation

  • Who leads the event

  • The tone of the event

  • The name and pronouns people use for you

  • The funeral director

  • The funeral location

  • Whether you have a cremation or a burial

  • Whether the funeral director embalms you, which is a process that uses chemicals to preserve the body of someone who’s died

If you do not name any executors, your family will usually have control over what happens at your funeral instead. 

You could pick executors who know you're LGBTQIA+ and will respect this part of your identity

This tends to mean that, if your LGBTQIA+ identity is going to influence your funeral plans, the decisions they make will be more in line with what you want.

Even if they know you very well, your executors might find it difficult to make decisions for you. To make the process as smooth as possible, you could leave specific instructions in your Will.

This might include:

  • Restating the name and pronouns that people should use to refer to you

  • Specifying important people you’d like them to invite

  • Specifying the funeral director, celebrant, or faith leader you’d like them to use

  • Specifying what you’d like to happen to your body, including whether the funeral director embalms you, and whether you have a cremation or burial

  • Reminding them you’d like to reach your final resting place with particular gender-affirming clothing or items

These might be decisions that you think your executors would make anyway. But if you think there could be any room for error, having your wishes written in your will could be helpful - especially if your executors are not sure if your family know you're LGBTQIA+ (or your executors just have terrible dress sense.)

Let your executors know where to find your will!

If you do leave your instructions in your Will, make sure your executors know where to find it. People sometimes find their loved ones’ Wills after their funeral, meaning they already organised the event without being aware of their loved one’s wishes.

Protecting your privacy

Content Warning

This section contains advice on keeping your LGBTQIA+ identity private, which some readers may find distressing.

Some people will prefer to keep their LGBTQIA+ identity private

Not every LGBTQIA+ person is able to tell the people in their life about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and it might be important for them to keep this information private after they die.

This might be because:

  • Some or all of your family and friends are not accepting of LGBTQIA+ people, and you worry they’ll react badly if they find out

  • You’re not especially close with your family, and prefer that your personal life stays private

  • You do want your friends and family to learn that you’re LGBTQIA+, but not during your funeral

You can share as much or as little as you'd like to at your funeral. If keeping certain aspects of your LGBTQIA+ identity private is important to you, it can be helpful to make your funeral wishes clear, particularly to the people you do trust with that part of your life.

You could do things like:

  • give instructions about previous names or pronouns that people should use during your funeral, or when registering your death

  • let people know exactly what you're comfortable with them sharing or discussing at your funeral

  • keep a note in your funeral wishes, about what you do and do not want people to talk about at your funeral

  • let your executor know (or put in your funeral wishes) how you’d like them to present you at your funeral, including what you’d like to wear

This will help avoid any confusion about what you want after you die.

Planning a religious funeral

If your wishes stem from your faith or belief, you might find it helpful to speak with a member of your faith group - or a celebrant - about your plans.

Some people in your life might find this upsetting or confusing. It could be helpful to explain to them why you’d prefer to keep certain parts of your identity private.

You could ask the people who know about your LGBTQIA+ identity to hold a separate, private ceremony, where they celebrate your life (or commemorate your death) and speak freely about your LGBTQIA+ identity. 

This might mean:

  • Using your correct name and pronouns

  • Asking your partner(s) to say a few words

  • Sharing stories, memories and pictures which they could not otherwise share

  • Expressing their own LGBTQIA+ identities, if they were unable to do so at your funeral

If the funeral has already happened, they could hold a memorial service. This is where people gather to remember your life after you’ve found your final resting place.

Your funeral wishes can reflect your identity as much or as little as you’d like

For some LGBTQIA+ people, their identity will play only a very small role in their funeral plans. For others, it could have lots of influence. Your funeral director should understand this, and respect your wishes either way.

If your funeral director is not giving you the appropriate care, your loved ones can change to a different funeral director - although there might be a fee for moving you to a new resting place.

Article reviewed

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