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Philadelphia’s first out trans police officer misgendered in death

Maria Gonzalez identified as a woman, but was buried as a man

Maria Gonzalez, Philadelphia’s first out trans police officer, was buried as a man.

Who was Maria Gonzalez?

Gonzalez joined the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) in 1967. In 2004, she publicly announced her transition and began living and working as a woman. She retired in 2007.

Gonzalez died on 12 October at age 71 from lung disease. Her funeral was on 18 October.

The funeral

Gonzalez’s ex-wife Chrissy Hernandez Gonzalez and their daughter Celina Huber organized the funeral services, despite being unsupportive of Gonzalez’s life as a woman. At the funeral, Gonzalez’s remains were in a wooden box decorated with blue and white flowers. A blue ribbon wrapped the flowers. Gonzalez was put to rest next to a metal pendant reading ‘Dad.’ Her PPD awards were displayed, but included her male name.

Backstory

‘Family life was difficult for Maria,’ Linda Greiser, Gonzalez’s sister, told Philadelphia Gay News.

‘When she came out, [Hernandez Gonzalez] kicked her out of the house and wanted nothing to do with her. There wasn’t much of a relationship between my sister and [Huber] for 15 years. She made attempts, but nothing worked.’

‘Maria expressed to me numerous times that if her ex-wife or daughter were in charge of her funeral, she would have the worst funeral ever. Unfortunately, she never put anything into writing.’

Objections

Delilah Elsetinow, Gonzalez’s second cousin who was referred to as her niece, was deeply hurt by the funeral service.

‘She was not a man, but that’s how she was laid to rest,’ Elsetinow said. ‘Her daughter and ex-wife continuously referred to my aunt as a “he” or a “him” during the service. There were two big billboards filled with pictures of [Gonzalez] as a man and a slideshow of pictures before she transitioned.’

As a protest, Elsetinow attended the funeral with her own collage with pictures of Gonzalez as a woman. She also wore a shirt featuring an image of her aunt in red lipstick and nail polish.

Roccina Rosas, an aunt of Gonzalez’s, didn’t attend the funeral at all.

After a priest delivered the eulogy, Elsetinow read a note from Rosas aloud.

‘I would regret so much not speaking up,’ the note read. ‘I didn’t come to [the service] because of all of the controversy over what Maria’s wishes were. Put yourself in Maria’s shoes and think how horrible it must have felt that her body and soul weren’t the same. She was in the wrong body growing up and I can’t imagine how she felt. I love her and will always remember her as the beautiful woman she was.’

Philly remembers Gonzalez

Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, knew Gonzalez personally and attended her funeral.

‘The tension was palpable in the room. There were family members there who were very clear about depicting [Gonzalez] as her true self and wanted to honor her as a woman. They were disgusted that she would be referred to in any other way. That was putting a negative mark on her memory,’ Landau said.

‘She was struggling in her life with her identity and this was a time when she should have been honored and remembered for her strength and determination to be the first transgender police officer to transition while being on the force.’

Gonzalez’s obituary was published to Philly.com on 9 November. In it, her proper pronouns are used.

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Author: Rafaella Gunz