The family of former Riverdale City Councilperson Michelle Bruce, Georgia’s first openly transgender elected official, is asking for help to cover the cost of cremation.

Bruce, 60, was found dead in their home on September 27. Bruce, who gained international fame as Georgia’s first openly transgender elected official, was sued by an opponent who accused them of fraud for claiming they were a woman.

Bruce’s niece, Jessica Ray, has started a GoFundMe. According to Ray, “Mickey ‘Michelle’ Bruce was recently found deceased in their home on September 27” and may have been dead for “nearly two weeks before he was discovered.”

A GoFundMe to defray cremation expenses has been set up by the niece of former Riverdale City Councilperson Michelle Bruce.

“Uncle Mickey (Michelle) was a wonderful uncle who touched the lives of those around him and dedicated his life to serving the community in whatever way he could,” Ray wrote. “He served in the Coast Guard, was a Mason for many years, and served on the Riverdale City Council.”

City Clerk Sylvia Vaughan said the city has been wanting to get in touch with Bruce’s family. The City of Riverdale has placed a wreath, in memory of Bruce, in the lobby of City Hall:

Former Riverdale Councilman An’cel Davis and his wife had kept in touch with Bruce, making periodic visits and dropping off food. He told The Clayton Crescent that he and people at City Hall wanted information about any planned memorial service.

He added that, as a veteran, Bruce also may be entitled to some burial assistance.

Other than honorable: treatment of LGBTQ vets

During the 1980s, many LGBTQ servicemembers were kicked out of the armed services for “homosexuality” and were given less than honorable discharges for that reason. Bruce had posted in the Facebook group “For The Convenience of the Government,” named for a phrase used on military discharge papers, that they had been administratively separated:

Michelle Bruce’s Facebook post about the military’s witch hunts against LGBTQ servicemembers in the 1980s.

“The Coast Guard uses that term a lot for many reasons, like a reduction of military, use to get the gays out and many other reasons they can come up with,” Bruce wrote around 2014. “The Military needs to be held more accountable when they use this type of classification,” adding, “It was on my DD214 too lol.”

Here’s what it has been like for LGBTQ people to serve their country in recent years:

  • Between the 1940s and 1980s, the military made it a crime for LGBTQ people to serve in uniform.
  • In 1982, the military banned all LGBTQ people from service, forcing many out in less-than-honorable discharges and others deep into the closet for fear of losing their careers.
  • In 1993, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” meant the military could not ask servicemembers about their sexual orientation but would kick out anyone who disclosed it. Congress repealed DADT in 2011. In 2013, same-sex spouses of servicemembers were granted military spousal benefits.
  • In 2016, transgender people were allowed to serve openly. In 2017, then-President Donald Trump tweeted that transgender people would no longer be able to serve in uniform, a policy that went into effect in 2019. That ban was lifted in 2021.

The Veterans Administration acknowledges that “Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ Veterans are at an elevated risk for stress. This stress can increase the risk for certain mental and physical health conditions, such as substance use disorders, anxiety, and depression.” Transgender veterans are at 20 times higher risk of suicide, according to the VA (the medical examiner told The Clayton Crescent that Bruce appeared to have died of natural causes).

The Coast Guard’s Discharge Review Board also may consider whether to change a veteran’s discharge status.

Bruce’s family is trying to raise $3,500. No services have been set as of press time.

The GoFundMe link is . explains how to apply for funeral benefits and military headstones.

The Veterans Administration shows how to apply for a discharge upgrade, including for LGBTQ veterans who were discharged over sexual orientation or gender identity. offers a short history of LGBTQ Americans in the military and support resources for current servicemembers.

The Veterans Administration lists LGBTQ+ veterans’ rights to respectful and appropriate medical care.

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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