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.
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.