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Thoughts on the So-Called Gay Cemetery

On Monday, the GA Voice broke the news that Atlanta's Crest Lawn Memorial Park cemetery will soon have a section "for gay people—couples, their children, single people, people who want to be with their chosen families." The Advocate and Queerty quickly picked up on the story, and it's likely to get bigger as the days go by, especially with the catchy misnomer "gay cemetery." (The lightning-quick spread of the innacurate term "Ground-Zero Mosque" comes to mind.)

Unlike the GA Voice and the Advocate, which report on the plans in Atlanta with little commentary, Queerty's blurb is heavy on sarcasm, starting with the title "Atlanta's Dead Gays Can Rest In Segregated Cemetery For Eternity." While "segregation" is a loaded and problematic word, I read about the Dignity Memorial company's intentions feeling like I'd been punched in the stomach. For a number of reasons, the idea of a specifically queer section in a cemetery is troubling to me.

Crest Lawn Memorial Park, via crestlawnmemorialpark.com

via crestlawnmemorialpark.com

First of all, you may notice that unlike all three of the articles, I didn't use the word "gay." "G," after all, is only one letter of QUILTBAG, and, perhaps inevitably, it's unsatisfactory as an umbrella term. Plenty of people in the community/ies, for example some trans* folks, are straight. Then there's the matter of relationships in which only one person is straight and cisgendered, and of queer cis people in opposite-sex relationships. While the unpartnered are purported to be welcome as well, who gets to judge whether someone is queer enough, especially with limited body space?

Luckily, folks would be buried in the new area by choice, and it's not designed to benefit straight, cisgendered folks. Owner John Suggs seems to have the best of intentions. The Voice reports:

John Suggs of Dignity Memorial said the idea of having a gay section in a cemetery seemed like a natural progression as gay men and lesbians gather more acceptance in mainstream society.

"I think it's a good idea because it is about a sense of community, connection and because it's a tradition," said Suggs, who is gay.

"We have to make our traditions. In a way this is a way to honor our relationships in a simple but proud way. Being able to be next to your partner at end of life is important, comforting and a reassuring thing to know," he said.

The question is, how does a sectioned-off area signify acceptance? It seems othering, as if certain sexualities and genders deserve to be remembered as abnormal, positively or not. It's not as if the queer community/ies can only gather in death, either; for that matter, it's not as if the concept of "chosen family" is necessary or exclusive to all QUILTBAG people.

This brings us to a statement by Suggs with which I agree wholeheartedly: "Being able to be next to your partner at end of life is important, comforting and a reassuring thing to know." Absolutely, we should have the option to be buried next to our sweethearts, be they our legally recognized spouses or not. We should also be able to opt for space next to our dearest friends and blood or non-blood relatives, if we plan to be buried at all. Suggs' indication that his "gay section" is the solution is strange, though, considering that Crest Lawn Memorial Park is not for vet burial, and, in theory, same-sex couples can buy space together just as easily in the rest of the cemetery.

As commenters on the aforementioned articles have been quick to note, it's hard not to think about anti-gay vandalism, though I'd argue that this in itself is not a good reason to hold off on creating queer space. On the contrary, I am all for QSAs, LGBT centers and Pride celebrations, and the peace and comfort I have found in these places are unique. Accessing such resources, like being "out" about one's non-heteronormative sexuality and/or gender in the first place, takes courage. I worry that an assumption will develop that local queer people will all opt to be buried in this section, leading to minimization of our community/ies. (Not that underestimation of QUILTBAG folks is anything new: Only 1 in 10? Really?) What of people who opt out due to being closeted... or simply don't want to be sectioned off due to their queerness?

I, for one, would fit into the latter category. While I hope to be remembered as a proud gay woman, I wouldn't want my loved ones to pay their respects in a "special" part of a cemetery, literally divided from people assumed to be normal.

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Comments

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I find this truly bizarre...

John Suggs of Dignity Memorial said the idea of having a gay section in a cemetery seemed like a natural progression as gay men and lesbians gather more acceptance in mainstream society.

We're separating you from the mainstream as a sign of progression and acceptance? HUH?

I agree with Deb that this seems like othering. Gay people have been laid to rest with their family or friends or partners for as long as we can remember. Why suddenly create a separate section? Intentional or not, this definitely has the appearance of going from integration to segregation.

It all seems so deeply unnecessary....a poorly-conceived marketing ploy developed to attract business.

Becky Sharper www.harpyness.com

So, how is a separate burial

So, how is a separate burial section supposed to make people feel included and accepted? I'm confused. That's like some cemetery owner telling me, "Oh, well we have lovely burial plots near the rose garden for African-Americans/Blacks. Y'know, so you can feel a since of community and acceptance [from your own kind]."

if we have a gay or queer

if we have a gay or queer section, that means we won't be near our straight family members? wouldn't acceptance mean that gay partners get included in the family plots? I know lots of cemeteries have sections for religions now, but instead of a gay section (which is limiting and, as you said, othering), wouldn't a secular section make more sense?

Super effective advertisement to QUILTBAG, though

I agree that the logic here is fuzzy. Overtly saying "We welcome all people here, even if they are -----" may ruffle feathers in the conservative south. A strange and appeasing-to-the-older-generation solution was proposed: gays get their own section. I really hope the section exists only on the corporate plot map, rather than in a roped off area of the cemetery. In that case, the othering is minimized.

Another motive here may be to simply reach out to the lgbtq community and direct traffic to the "out" cemetery. No other cemetery is advertising that they care about them. So firing a big misguided ad in the advocate is a good way to stir up business and put your name on the map as at least one place that is thinking about the demographic

"Sectioned off"

The original article in the GA Voice describes the upcoming portion of the cemetery as "sectioned off," which sounds to me like a physical separation (not definitely, but probably.)

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That's absolutely ridiculous

That's absolutely ridiculous as everyone already has the option to buy plots and designate who they want to be buried beside whether they be gay, lesbian, transgendered (or white, asian, and any other group). I can see this going very wrong in graves being vandalized. Those w/o financial means wouldn't be able to buy plots ahead of time but that's a completely a different issue.

Marketing Ploy Gone Awry

It seems that this is as much a marketing ploy gone awry as one of inclusion of the gay community. The majority of cemeteries offer varying price options based upon "idyllic plot locations." With the implementation of a "gay section," Suggs is able to have another sales tool by which to garner sales. Even in death, many in the LGBT community face certain obstacles those in the hetero world are not. Suggs was probably gambling that he could appeal to an often disenfranchised group by seeming more sympathetic to their needs.

Aside from that, he might have been taking into account another issue. My Aunt, an African American female, expressly stated that she did not wish to be buried in a certain part of a local cemetery wherein a number of known racists were laid to rest. She stated that she could not fathom the notion of spending eternity lying next to those who expressed such hostility towards black members of the community. Even in death, she wanted to think she was in "good company," as she said.

Perhaps Suggs was banking that those in the LGBT community would have the same mindset, that they would rather be in the company of those in their own community, as opposed to the thought of being surrounded, even in death, by those who had ostracized them in life.

Whatever the reasoning, he should have put more thought into this. But, business owners sometimes go off half cocked in an attempt to appeal to a certain demographic for sales purposes.