This July, two years after his death, Christopher Lee’s chosen family will finally be able to correct his death certificate to honor the man he was. Below, those who knew Christopher reflect as the Christopher Lee Respect After Death Act becomes law.
Chino Lee Scott-Chung, lifelong friend and brother to Christopher:
It is an honor to be a part of the implementation of The Christopher Lee Respect After Death Act. Christopher was my brother and best friend. He was a lovely, generous, beautiful man who would drop everything to help a friend. For my 50th birthday he stayed up all night rebuilding my front porch to surprise me in the morning. He was the best man at my wedding. He was at our home for his last Thanksgiving feast.
In December of 2012 we lost Christopher. He was 48 years old. We gave the coroner several identity documents that identified him as “male” and told them he was a transgender man. Later, when I went to pick up his ashes and death certificate, I was shocked to discover he was listed as “female.” Listing him as female on his death certificate was disrespectful to his memory and legacy. It was deeply painful to me, to his chosen family, and to the communities he was so much a part of.
Christopher lived his life in all ways as a man for almost 20 years. He was a loyal, funny and courageous man who lived to the fullest in all his identities. He was a proud Chinese/Polish, artist/filmmaker, political activist and FTM, who was also a part of the recovery community. Christopher was a visionary trailblazer and he co-founded the SF Transgender Film Festival in 1997 (originally called TrannyFest), which continues to this day. He was elected as the first openly transgender man to be Grand Marshal in the 2002 Gay Pride Parade. Misgendering his death certificate erased his history and hard-won identity.
Christopher helped me embrace who I am because he was fully himself. He was my role model. Back in the 90’s when we first met, the transgender community was invisible. Christopher came into the Asian Pacific Islander lesbian community sporting LOVE-HATE tattoos on his hands, one letter for each finger, and insisted we call him “he.” Back then few people knew how to understand transgender identity, and we had big debates over whether to call him “he” or not. Then Christopher transitioned slowly over the years while our friendship deepened.
Now, as a proud Chinese/Mexican Trans writer, father to Luna, husband to Maya, son to Teresa, I walk in this world as who I fully am because of Christopher. As my wife Maya said, “He not only spoke for himself, but he was fiercely inclusive in creating spaces for a diversity of voices. He was a community builder.” And as Christopher said of his own film, “Trappings of Transhood” (which focuses on the stories and lived experiences of a multiracial group of transmen), he “wanted a documentary that wasn’t telling people what to think, but helping people to think about their own gender, and about gender period …You have to trust what people believe and who they tell you they are.”
Christopher was family. The least we can do as his family is to help fight for him to be remembered in death as the man he was in life. A wide range of people were profoundly impacted by his life and devastated by his death. They join us in celebrating the implementation of this bill.
We are inspired and grateful to honor him by joining Transgender Law Center in educating our communities about the Christopher Lee Respect After Death Act so that other friends and families can be supported to honor their loved ones with dignity after they die.
Shivaun M. Nestor, longtime friend of Christopher and webmaster of www.dragonsbloodrising.org:
Being a teen in El Paso during the homophobic early 1970s, my involvement in community theater enabled me to meet lesbian and gay adults and high school-age friends with whom I could be “out.” Coming to terms with my same-sex attractions was not as isolating an experience as it was for many of my peers. However, coming to terms with my bisexuality was much harder. In the Women’s Community of the 70s, it was widely held that bisexual women were at best “fence sitters” and at worst traitors and untrustworthy lovers. In response, I internalized a deeply held bi-phobia.
Then, Christopher Lee walked into my life. It was the early 90s. We met through the San Francisco chapter of DYKE TV, for which he produced several segments on the A/PI lesbian community. Christopher blew me away with how large a presence he was, how authentic he was, and how unafraid he was to be openly transgender in a time when the letter “T” was not even commonly included in the LGB acronym. (Not to mention, I was continually envious of his superb sense of style.) His courage helped me finally come out and embrace myself as bisexual. We became lifelong friends and when he co-founded TrannyFest with Elise Hurwitz and Al Austin, I gladly signed on as the original webmaster, a post I held for 8 years.
When Christopher died, I just as quickly volunteered to become webmaster for the Dragon’s Blood Rising website in order to keep his memory and his contributions to queer and trans culture alive. It was devastating to learn that his death certificate had identified him as female, not giving him the dignity in death that he had insisted on in life.
I want to express my gratitude to those in the California Legislature who passed the Christopher Lee Respect After Death Act, and to Governor Brown for signing it. And I want to share the armfuls of love I have for my queer family members – Maya and Chino – and for Sasha from Transgender Law Center, for fighting so hard and successfully to ensure Christopher be treated with the respect he deserves.
Two and a half years after his passing, I still miss him. And I know that, wherever he is in his current journey, he is smiling today.
zzapata, lifelong friend of Christopher and co-producer and editor on the films Alley of the Trannyboys (1998) and Sex Flesh in Blood (1999):
As this life-altering law goes into effect, Christopher would be full of high fives and cheers all around. He’s such a superstar. He’s working through us all to impact the world even though he has departed. Basically, this blazes the trail for trans folk rights in death and it’s fitting it be inspired by Christopher, a mega-trail blazer in so many ways. Let’s hope it sets the tone across the nation for all states to protect Trans folk in life and respect them in death. Pure genius!
I miss him though. Wish he was here with us to celebrate the fun things happening right now in the world for gays and Trans folk!
Maya Scott-Chung, Christopher’s extended family and collaborator on DragonsBloodRising.org and the Christopher Lee Memorial StoryCorps Archives:
I am so grateful to have been a part of the passage of the Christopher Lee Respect After Death Act.
We send love, healing, release, peace and power to the spirit of our brother and friend Uncle Christopher Lee, whose death and misgendering of his death certificate was the catalyst for this bill. It is a big day for many of us.
This past Pride Sunday as we marched in the SF Pride parade and celebrated the SCOTUS marriage decision, I was remembering the thrill of glamming out with Christopher to celebrate him and Shawna Virago as the first transgender Grand Marshals in the 2002 SF Pride Parade thirteen years ago.
Christopher was my spouse Chino’s best friend and a part of our extended family. I considered him my Brother Outlaw, and he was with us through many life passages: a witness at our 1999 SF Domestic partnership ceremony, celebrating our Feb. 13, 2004 marriage at SF City Hall during the Winter of Love, the birth of our daughter Luna and serving as the Best Man at our SF City Hall wedding in October 2008. He cried with us at my father’s funeral, cheered at Giants and A’s games, celebrated our birthdays and spent many Thanksgivings and Christmases with us. He was family.
His death was devastating to our family and extended communities. We were shocked and angry when we received his death certificates and saw his birth name was used and that his sex was designated “female.” We struggled about what to do, and decided to call Transgender Law Center in winter 2013 for assistance several months after he died We will be forever grateful that TLC worked with us pro bono, learned what it would take to amend the death certificate, and eventually worked with EQCA and Assemblymember Toni Atkins to propose a statewide bill.
This coming week our family will be joined by Sasha Buchert of the Transgender Law Center to change the name and gender identity on Christopher’s death certificate. We will post a public invitation to celebrate once we have finally changed his death certificate to match his authentic identity.
We will always miss Christopher, and we send solidarity, solace, peace and power to countless other people who have lost Trans and gender spectrum loved ones who have been misgendered in death. What is remembered lives!
Christopher’s chosen family share a personal Memorial Slideshow for Christopher Lee Sept. 4, 1964 – December 22, 2012. The Slideshow was created by Vega Darling with photos from Chino and Maya Scott-Chung’s family photos, Bobby Chung and the estate of Christopher Lee. Soundtrack “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry. The slideshow was shown at Christopher Lee’s community memorial in Feb. 2013 after Chino Scott-Chung read the poem “Love song to Christopher.”
An invitation: Share YOUR Stories!
Christopher’s chosen family created a website called DragonsBloodRising.org– as Christopher’s final unfinished film was called Dragon’s Blood, and we see all of our efforts as part of His fierce fabulous Virgo Dragon spirit rising. We welcome people to send us reflections on the importance of the Christopher Lee Respect After Death Act to [email protected].