Metro Weekly

Los Angeles County becomes first jurisdiction to ensure medical examiners investigate and record LGBTQ violent deaths

Motion seeks to ensure data is collected and can be used to shape policies to better protect at-risk LGBTQ people

Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office – Photo: Cbl62, via Wikimedia.

Los Angeles County has become the first jurisdiction in the country to pass a motion ensuring medical examiners and coroners investigate — and keep track of — all violent deaths involving LGBTQ victims, including suicides, potential bias-motivated crimes, and homicides. 

The motion, sponsored by County Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Sheila Kuehl, requires the Los Angeles Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office to develop a plan and timeline for how it will go about collecting data on the sexual orientation and gender identity of victims of violent crimes — which will be included in annual reports, institute training for employees on how best to collect that data and how to be culturally sensitive when dealing with LGBTQ victims, and report back to the Board of Supervisors on a quarterly basis to update them about how implementation of this initiative is going.

It is currently not mandatory for medical examiners or coroners to track information about sexual orientation or gender identity or include it in death records, and in places where such tracking does take place, there is often no uniform training or a set of best practices.

But activists hope that by instituting procedures and practices to do so, the information gleaned from the data collection will be used to inform government, medical, or professional policies that will help target the root causes of suicide or anti-LGBTQ homicides, thus saving lives.

“The work of the Medical Examiner and Coroner’s [Office] is vital, as it often is used to gather evidence and information that can be used in a criminal proceeding,” Barger and Kuehl’s motion rads. “However, this work can also highlight disparities in mortality rates, and provide valuable insight that can be used to guide policies, resources, and law enforcement efforts to protect at-risk communities. … By tracking this data, it will allow us to better understand these disparities and develop policies that seek to address them at the County level.”

The Trevor Project, which specializes in suicide prevention and support for LGBTQ youth, praised the motion, saying collecting data would help shed more light on the issue of what causes or contributes to suicidal ideation. 

“We know that too many LGBTQ people die by suicide every year, but because of gaps in the data collection process, we don’t actually know how many, and that lack of information limits our ability to prevent future suicides,” Sam Brinton, the head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said in a statement.

“We are grateful to Los Angeles County for taking action to ensure that L.A. County medical examiners and coroners will have the training and resources they need to accurately and respectfully account for a deceased individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” Brinton added. “Only through routine, systematic, evidence-based data collection can we learn the lessons we need in order to save LGBTQ lives.”

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