The development of a systematic protocol for death investigators is critical to helping to identify and document sexual orientation and gender identity of decedents’ of suicide and other violent deaths.
Collecting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Information
Information on the decedent’s sexual orientation and gender identity is important in order to complete a full investigation of the death. In every death investigation, the investigator should clearly identify the decedent’s gender identity and sexual orientation, along with a summary of information supporting the investigator’s determinations.
National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS)
Since 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been developing a national database on violent deaths called the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). This system aggregates official death records of suicides, homicides, intentional and accidental firearms deaths, deaths resulting from law enforcement actions, and undetermined deaths.
Using a coding manual developed by CDC, state-level personnel abstract information about each violent death from the death records, specifically the Death Certificate, the medical examiner/coroner’s report, law enforcement report, and crime laboratory findings. By pooling information from these sources into one comprehensive, de-identified database, NVDRS aims to improve understanding about why violent deaths occur, who is most affected, and how these deaths can be prevented. NVDRS data also play a critical role in guiding state and local agencies and officials as they develop, implement, and evaluate violence prevention programs, policies and practices.
Among the more than 700 incident and decedent variables included in the NVDRS database are several related to sexual orientation and gender identity. In the coding of these variables, state abstractors rely especially heavily on the report from the medical examiner or coroner. As with all national surveillance and vital statistics data collection, the quality of the NVDRS database depends essentially on the skill, perseverance, and commitment of the personnel who collect the information about each death.
By following the guidelines in Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: A Guide for the Investigator, death investigators will assure that NVDRS is able to fill the current gaps in knowledge about the sexual orientation and gender identity of persons who die by suicide, homicide and other forms of violent death. In providing this critical information, investigators will play a unique and essential role in improving understanding – and preventing – violent death in LGBT people.