During grief, there are certain challenges that someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ may face when trying to come to terms with their bereavement. In this article, we’ll talk through these challenges and explain how we’re here to support the LGBTQ+ community through grief in a way that is sensitive to their feelings and circumstances.
If you identify as LGBTQ+ and are struggling with your grief, you might find it useful to share this page with those who are close to you. Or, if you are supporting a friend or family member who identifies as LGBTQ+, we’ve got advice to help you support them through this difficult time.
Challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community during grief
Grief can be overwhelming and scary, and that’s without the added challenges that can come with facing it as someone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or asexual, or as someone who is questioning their identity. These challenges can include:
Disenfranchised loss or grief is when your grief is not valued or recognised by those around you, often because it doesn’t align with what some people within our society deem to be acceptable.
For example, after someone has died, it is common for support to focus on those closest to that person. However, if you are grieving for someone whose identity is yet to be accepted by their family of origin, you might find that you are sidelined during the grieving process - especially if you aren’t handling the funeral or practical arrangements yourself.
This is because the LGBTQ+ relationships associated with the person who has died can sometimes be viewed as invalid by their family of origin, and so your opinions or views may not be considered or taken into account. This is often experienced by someone’s 'chosen family’, the group of people who have intentionally chosen to support each other through their lives, as well as those who are grieving for their partner.
Disenfranchised grief can also present itself during baby loss. This is particularly common amongst those who have not carried the embryo, as initial support following a miscarriage or early embryo loss can tend to focus on the person who was biologically pregnant.
The loss of a child also tends to only be registered with the person who carried the baby, making it harder for the other parent to find their voice and place in a system that is often heteronormative. This additional pain, shame and ‘having to explain oneself’ can severely affect how you cope with your bereavement.
No matter your situation, coming to terms with this exclusion in grief can be extremely difficult to deal with, and you might find that you’re unable to express yourself in the ways that you need to.
Isolation from your family of origin
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are perhaps more likely to have strained relationships with their family of origin, often caused by a lack of acceptance over their identity.
In our latest research into bereavement support, over 65% of the people we surveyed said they turned to family and friends for support during grief, but if you don’t feel like you can open up to your family, or be your true self around them, this can make the grieving process feel incredibly isolating.
It is also common for the LGBTQ+ community to experience fear or worry over the person who has died being misremembered.
For example, there are instances where those who identify as trans or non-binary have been misgendered on their death certificate. This can happen for a number of reasons, such as it being difficult to get hold of the right legal documentation, particularly if you don’t have any legal rights to it. It can also happen if the person’s family of origin aren’t accepting of their true identity, and therefore refuse to acknowledge them in the way they would have liked.
This may also result in you feeling worried about the person who has died being deadnamed, which means referring to them with the name they were born with rather than the one they chose.
At a time when you are already dealing with the shock and impact of your loss, witnessing the identity of the person who has died being erased - and not being able to do anything to stop it - can be traumatic and upsetting.
Heterosexual language bias
While society has, over time, become more inclusive and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community and their rights, there still remains a heterosexual bias in language around identity and relationships. This is called heteronormativity.
For example, if you are a lesbian and are grieving for your partner, you may have experienced people assuming your partner is male when talking about your bereavement. Or, if you are grieving for your dad and your parents are gay, you may have had people ask how your mum is coping instead of your dad.
This instinctive heterosexual bias in the way society talks about grief can be insensitive, and correcting those who are making assumptions may leave you feeling angry and tired.
LGBTQ+ grief support from Sue Ryder
We know that dealing with these challenges alongside your grief can be overwhelming, but we’re here to help. If you or someone you know is struggling, we have a range of services and information that might provide the support you’re looking for.
Online Bereavement Community
Find others who truly understand what coping with a bereavement feels like in our Online Community. It’s open to everyone over the age of 18, and we recently introduced a new LGBTQ+ category to provide those who identify in that way with a safe space to voice their feelings.
You don’t need to sign up to read what our members are talking about, but you will need an account if you want to ask questions, take part in conversations or share your own grief journey.
Online bereavement counselling
At Sue Ryder, we offer free and professional video counselling to anyone over the age of 18. All you need to do is register online, and then we’ll contact you for an initial assessment. If our service is right for you, you’ll be able to get up to six sessions with a trained counsellor, free of charge.
We know that opening up to someone new can be scary, especially if you are already feeling misunderstood, alone or stuck in your emotions. But our counsellors are trained to listen and talk to you in ways that can help you to better understand the challenges you’re facing and what your grief means for you moving forwards.
If you aren’t ready to talk about your own experiences just yet, we’ve also got lots of online bereavement information about how to support yourself through grief. Plus, we recently launched our Grief Self-Help Service, which is a new site dedicated to helping you learn about your grieving process and find new ways to cope.
Last year we launched Grief Kind, a nationwide movement to inspire more kindness around grief. We know that it can be difficult to know what to say or do when you’re supporting someone after a bereavement. That’s why we’ve created a range of resources to give people the confidence they need to be there for the people they love.
If you’re grieving, you might want to share both the campaign and this webpage with those closest to you, so that they can learn more about how to better understand and support you.