Serving gay and black communities

Charles Cowling

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Guest post by Richard Rawlinson

Recent talk about preferences for traditional or alternative funeral services was pretty much silenced by the word ‘choice’. In other words, whether it’s a requiem mass preceded by a Victorian-lite cortege or a liturgy-free, no-dress-code send-off in a field, give the punters what they want.

This libertarian strain of relativism has again been used to challenge ownership of the word ‘progressive’. Isn’t any undertaker progressive if he/she strives to offer better service and value? Isn’t anyone progressive if he/she wants society to advance in the direction of greater peace and prosperity?

People differ on how and where to move forward but no one owns the label of progressive as people have diverse tastes, beliefs, income levels etc. In this pluralist society, choice trumps homogeneity. Sometimes, the big chains deliver it, sometimes niche undertakers have healthy volume by specialising in a given area.

There’s been much said about green pound undertakers but there are also specialists defined by sexuality and race—the pink pound and black pound sub-categories within the grey pound.

If you Google  ‘gay funeral directors’ (hat tip Mark Sharron’s recent post about search engine optimisation), you find the site of the Gay Business Association (GBA) listing its members in the funeral trade – here.

London’s Chelsea Funeral Directors is profiled as ‘independent, British, gay-owned (actually it’s not – see footnote)  and managed funeral directors and monumental masons, sensitive to personalised funeral requests’.

The entire Dignity chain is also a GBA member and states: ‘We offer sympathetic, caring, unbiased service through our nationwide network of over 550 funeral homes – 24 hours a day… We also provide full services for persons with AIDS and HIV+’.

There’s clearly a difference between a gay-managed company and a corporation making a point that all business is welcome. The pink pound might be attracted to Dignity’s GBA membership just as the red pound of union activists might be attracted to the Labour-funding Co-operative Group’s Funeralcare chain. That doesn’t make either the real deal.

A funeral director catering for reds didn’t score in my Google search but there are plenty of other specialists beyond the greens and the pinks.

  1. Carty Independent Funeral Services in London’s Brixton is managed by people from African and Caribbean backgrounds, and specialises in funerals for Rastafarians.

As with most modern companies, Chelsea and M. Carty undertakers will tailor their services to individual wishes, whether religious or non-religious, opulent or simple. Likewise, their funerals are, of course, available to gay and straight or black and white.

The fact they also promote their niche expertise as a strength is an added bonus, good for individuals within the community and, I hope, good for business.

Footnote: for Charlie Phillips’s photographs of Afro-Caribbean funerals, see here.

ED’S NOTE 1) Cheshire East Council’s Information On Using A Funeral Director notes: “older people tend to reflect upon the past socialist principles of the ‘Co-op’ funeral services, which may no longer apply.”  2) We are informed (21.06, Weds 22.10.2014) that Chelsea Funeral Directors are no longer gay-owned.   

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maxine mitchell
maxine mitchell
1 year ago

I have never read such nonsense concerning the ‘black’ community. I do not understand what is being said here. Black people have no issue with how white undertakers conduct their funerals, not only have we been paying white people to conduct our services for years -the majority of us take over the process. We wash our bodies on death and prepare them for storage. Once embalmed we dress our dead, we apply the make up, we comb the hair. Once the hearse arrives the role of the undertaker is null and void. We carry the body into the funeral, we… Read more »

Andrew Plume
Andrew Plume
1 year ago

Dear Maxine That’s a pretty mighty and strong post that you’ve just made, may I suggest that you chill out a little……..? Unless I’m ‘way of course’ it’s fairly clear which firm of Funeral Director that you’ve ‘targeted’. I assume that you’re referring to the Ghana based part of their business. You have said “…..we have enabled them to go into African territory and create funeral business…..” The African Continent is, for instance, a very different animal to say Australia where there are still very strong indigenous feelings regarding land issues. I am sure that the well respected firm of… Read more »

Richard
Richard
6 years ago

GM, we’re kindred spirits whether you like it or not!! David, nice anecdote about the same sex couple in your promo, and I liked the limo piece too! Lucy, like the jeans experiment.

Mark Shaw
6 years ago

The problem with specialising is that you may be half way through a “normal” arrangement before you pick up on a families specific wish. Do you turn them away at that point? No!

Our specialism is care of deceased, formalities, legalities and customs in our areas etc. we should therefore be able to look after any client with honest integrity and know the extent of our industry well enough to cater for particular wishes.

If I were to turn away certain groups as they were out with my speciality (not that I want to) I could be taken to court!

Mark Shaw
6 years ago

I really can’t think of a funeral I have arranged which was completely “not my bag”.

I loved the comment from Nigel Lymn Rose on the trailer for the dead good job series along the lines of “we are here to do what’s legal, not to be the bastions of good taste”

Are there any examples of when one funeral director would have done well to step aside and let another?

Richard
Richard
6 years ago

Dignity’s listing on the GBA site states, ‘We also provide full services for persons with AIDS and HIV+’. Is anyone aware of a FD refusing to provide services on this basis? Is a dead body that’s carried a disease still contagious, even in the most unlikely event of, say, embalming, being carried out without the usual hygiene measures? Apologies for unpleasant subject matter.

Lucy
6 years ago
Reply to  Richard

I have worked for a company that refused to let the family view the deceased as no one wanted to handle the body at all.
The embalmer at the time also refused to embalm the person.

There are embalmers that specialise in “high risk” cases (and charge an absolute fortune), but after speaking to two mortuary managers, they have both said that AIDS and HIV+ people pose a much smaller risk to them than someone with TB for example.

David Holmes
6 years ago

Our old website had a pre-paid funeral page with a single photograph depicting an older couple. The text suggested that as we age, we may want to plan our funeral with a partner, husband or wife. In this case, the picture used was of two older men – clearly a gay couple. I thought our choice of picture was brave, but no-one ever commented on it, which I think is evidence of progress. Surely a good funeral director never discriminates nor judges anyone. I am proud to have conducted dozens of gay funerals, mostly the casual observer would never have… Read more »

Lucy
6 years ago

I think “specialising” in one area from the very beginning is a mistake if you are building your company and reputation from the ground up and is a luxury most funeral directors can’t afford in the short term. In the long term though, why not? My website is going to be updated shortly and amongst the types of funerals I specialise in will be Irish Repatriations. In the course of my career, I have genuinely lost count of the number of repatriations I have undertaken around the world but in the last three months alone, I have repatriated five people… Read more »

Lucy
6 years ago

Also, what is the point of advertising something you don’t believe in doing? Again, I will do anything as long as it is legal. If it is something I don’t do every day (I was recently asked if my client could holistically wash someone. I had no idea what this, so I called an expert.) The brilliant thing about being a funeral director, is that no two funerals are ever the same. While a thousand families may ask for a “Hearse only all meet at the local crematorium,” I can pretty much guarantee that they will personalise flower choice or… Read more »

Andrew Rush
Andrew Rush
6 years ago
Reply to  Lucy

You could say that you’re supporting Jeans for Genes – http://www.jeansforgenesday.org/ (and do so, of course!)

Lucy
6 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Rush

Andrew, we did support Jeans for Genes and made a donation to them too! On the company Facebook page, we encouraged everyone to do the same. Charles, really appreciate the comments. As you say, I am genuinely up for anything (as long as it is legal!) and because of this, I have been involved in some amazing funerals. They range from “I want everything including the kitchen sink,” and “something really simple.” I have a lady in her nineties who wants her coffin carried by Chippendales but also have a gentleman who wants no one at his funeral. What ever… Read more »

gloria mundi
6 years ago

Ss usual Charles, I’d go for a middle position. Unique Strong Personality fine, so long as it doesn’t get in the way! And that too can happen. It’s not about the FD. But I agree entirely that a good FD/celebrant – well, almost anything I guess – can’t be all things to all.

gloria mundi
6 years ago

There seems to me to be a really sound strain of common sense and realism running through this post. It’s easy to agree that polarising funeralists into trad and prog is as useless as all such definition games. It’s perhaps harder to avoid slipping into the terminology without noticing, as it is with “green” burial grounds. One I know of seems to me simply a cemetery with trees…. The historically sentimental assumption that the Co-op is somehow a more socialist choice than any other undertaker is about as naive as assuming that a Dignity funeral wil be more dignified than… Read more »