#WhyIMarch: For visibility

Saturday, the day after Trump’s inauguration, I am joining the Women’s March in Seattle, a sister march to the one happening in Washington, DC. I am marching for visibility. Visibility for myself, my partner, my female friends, my friends of color, my LGBT friends, my Muslim friends, and others.

I have zero confidence that the incoming administration seeks to represent or benefit anyone who isn’t an affluent old white straight cis male. Look at how Trump’s top 4 cabinet positions are all white males, the first time in 28 years. Or how all of his cabinet is anti-LGBT. Or his intent to deport illegal immigrants and build a wall between the US and Mexico. Or create a Muslim registry here in the US. Or how he personally treats women, as exhibited by his treatment of Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly and his comment to “grab them by the pussy”.

I hate to break it to Trump, but straight cis white males are in the minority in this country. Hell, males alone are in the minority in this country.1

So I’m marching to make sure Trump and the rest of his administration know that we are here and we are not going away. We will stand up for each other and actively resist any efforts to erode our civil liberties. We are angry and we are motivated.

March with me.

Not in Seattle or Washington DC: find a march near you.


1 In 2010, 50.8% of the people in the US were women according to the census.

Doing Good

Daniel and I have serious concerns about the incoming administration’s attitude and commitment to the environment and the rights of anyone who isn’t an old straight white guy. While we may not be doing well, we can at least do good.

We sat down and made a list of organizations that were tackling issues and supporting groups near and dear to our hearts. We focused on organizations that support women, LGBT, people of color, and immigrants, both locally and nationally. We ended up with a rather large list of organizations we wanted to support at the end of 2016 but not enough money to support them all like we wanted. Instead of giving everyone a medium amount of money, we gave big to a few organizations and gave small to the rest.

Primary organizations

We gave big to these organizations, wanting to focus locally and in areas that directly affect our LGBT community and women.

Local

National

Secondary organizations

These aren’t any less important than the others, but we feel it’s more effective to give larger donations and there was only so much money to go around. We believe in the work these groups are doing and wanted to let them know they have our support.

Local

National

Where are you doing good?

What organizations are near and dear to your heart? What groups are you supporting?

PODs, TODs, and beneficiaries

It’s important to have protections in place so that when you die, what you leave behind gets to the people you want. If you are partnered, but unmarried, and die without a Will, your estate could get tied up in probate and whomever the court determines is your nearest relative will walk away with a fatter purse – and that might not be your partner.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, you need things in place so that after you die your assets go to your partner, a relative, or even a friend of your choosing.

I’ve blogged about using a Will to make this happen. Another, and often more straightforward, mechanism to do this is through PODs, TODs, and beneficiaries.

Disclaimers

Again: I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV or the internet. This is not legal advice and you should always consult with a lawyer for legal matters. If you trust a random blogger on the internet to give you legal advice, you should have your head checked.

This post is US-centric. I am totally unfamiliar with how these matters are handled outside of the US.

Payable On Death

POD stands for Payable On Death and is an account type supported by most, if not all, financial institutions. While you’re alive, a POD account is entirely your own and the person set up to receive it upon your death has zero access to it. When you die, the designated person presents proof to the bank of your demise, and then the accounts are transferred to them, bypassing your Will and probate altogether.

PODs can be changed at any time without witnesses or even a notary. There are additional wrinkles if you are married and the POD designee is not your spouse, however.

Contact your bank to have your checking, saving, and money market accounts set up as a POD account to the person of your choosing. You might even be able to do it entirely online. You will likely need the designee’s social security number.

See this page for further reading on PODs.

Transfer On Death

TOD stands for Transfer on Death and is for investment and brokerage accounts. They act pretty much exactly like PODs – you specify who should get the account assets upon your death, but you alone have access to the accounts while you are alive. Also like PODs, they bypass probate.

Set up your TOD beneficiary through your investment firm’s website.

Beneficiaries

Retirement accounts like IRAs and 401ks have a similar mechanism that can bypass probate: beneficiaries. Like the other two, these individuals have no access or authorization on the accounts until your demise, at which time the retirement accounts will be paid out to them. Like PODs, retirement beneficiaries will likely want the beneficiary’s social security number so have that ready.

Updated to add: If you don’t specify a beneficiary distribution for an IRA account held at a financial institution, or if your primary beneficiary has pre-deceased you, then the beneficiary distribution outlined in the Terms & Conditions document from the financial institution will be the sole governing determinant of the beneficiary distribution. That language may or may not be in line with your wishes, so you should ALWAYS specify a beneficiary or beneficiaries when you open the account. And review those designations every few years, or when you have a major life event. [Thanks to Steve for this information!]

Specify your retirement beneficiaries through the website of the financial institution that manages your accounts.

Being prepared

No one wants to think about dying, but it is important to be prepared, particularly if you have a partner to which you are not legally married.

PODs, TODs, and retirement beneficiaries are a painless way to redirect assets to someone without the hassle of creating a Will. Wills are still important, particularly if you have any real estate, but probate-bypassing mechanisms can be useful and easy to set up.

The importance of Hospital Visitation Authorizations and other documents

I’ve had, and continue to have, a myriad of emotional and intellectual responses to the events that occurred in Orlando six weeks ago. One of the few, solid, intellectual responses I was able act upon, to feel that I was doing something useful, was to update my legal paperwork should something happen to me.

The last time I updated my Hospital Visitation Authorization, Medical Power of Attorney, Will, etc was 10 years ago in 2006. Since then I’ve gotten divorced and my wishes for those documents have changed but they have never been updated. These documents, however, are vitally important in emergencies, particularly for unmarried LGBT individuals.

Disclaimers

I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV or the internet. This is not legal advice and you should always consult with a lawyer for legal matters. If you trust a random blogger on the internet to give you legal advice, you should have your head checked.

This post is US-centric. I am totally unfamiliar with how these matters are handled outside of the US.

Now that’s out of the way…

Hospital Visitation Authorization
and Medical Power of Attorney

53 people were injured in Orlando and treated at local hospitals. Who could visit those individuals in the hospital, particularly patients unable to give consent due to their condition, is far from clear. HIPPA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, restricts what patient information can be disclosed and to whom it can be disclosed. In general this is great in order to protect patient privacy, but in an emergency it can have the unintended side effect of preventing important information from being disclosed to people you want to know.

The day after the Orlando shooting the mayor of Orlando requested a HIPPA waiver from the White House in order to allow greater access to patient information. In this case the Department of Health and Human Services was able to issue a clarification making the waiver unnecessary.

What can you do to help ensure the right people have access to you and information about you in an emergency? The two documents you want to look at are:

  • Hospital Visitation Authorization – This document provides explicit instructions about who is allowed to see you in the hospital.
  • Medical Power of Attorney – This is a much more powerful document that gives specific people the power to make medical decisions on your behalf and to consult with doctors if you are incapable of doing so.

These documents are sometimes grouped together and called Advance Directives. Both of them are important for non-married people, particularly LGBT individuals, who may want someone besides their legal family from making medical decisions or visiting them in the hospital.

Examples of both of these documents are available online:

Because you may need to access these documents in a hurry in an emergency, consider scanning in signed copies, uploading them to a private file-sharing service like Dropbox, and sharing them with the people who need access to them. Most private file-sharing services have mobile applications making access to these documents from an emergency room fast and simple.

Last Will & Testament

49 people1 died in the Orlando shooting. Who gets their belongings largely depends on if they have a Will2. If they have a Will, it will instruct the court in probate on who gets their belongings. If they do not have a Will, things get complicated quickly, especially if they were not legally married.

In most scenarios when you die without a Will, your estate goes to your legal family. For many LGBT individuals that may not be what you want. Even if you have been together with a partner for decades, if you die unmarried without a Will, the legal family of the deceased may get everything. Outside of getting legally married, a Will is the easiest way to make sure things work out like you want when you die.

Even if you are legally married, it’s a good idea to get a Will to ensure that if you and your partner both die, your estate goes where you want it.

There are many sample Wills online. I found this one from FindLaw a good starting point for when I updated mine.

Other documents

There are a myriad of other documents you may want in place, such as:

  • Declaration of Guardian – Specifies who is guardian of your estate and/or person in the case that becomes necessary.
  • Disposition of Remains – Specifies who has power over how your body is handled after you die.
  • Anatomical Gifts – Specifies your wishes for organ donation.
  • Legal Power of Attorney – Specifies who can legally represent you, usually coming into force if you are unable to represent yourself.

Witnesses and Notaries

Most of these documents don’t need to be notarized, just your signature and possibly the signature of a witness.

If the document requires a notary, head to your nearest bank branch first. They will usually notarize something for you for free. Alternatively, most administrative assistants will also be able to notarize personal documents at your place of work for free. Some copy and print centers like UPS stores provide notary services for a fee.

If documents need to be witnessed, pick any two people who aren’t mentioned in the document. Note that if the document needs to be notarized that the witnesses need to be present to sign it in front of the notary. It’s my experience that banks do not allow their staff to be witnesses, so it’s best to bring your own witnesses if your document needs both.

I’m happy to be a witness for anyone in the Seattle area who needs one. Have pen, will travel.

Laws vary by state

Like almost everything in the US, laws governing all of the documents discussed vary state-by-state. Do some googling and see what requirements there are for the various documents in your state.

Being prepared

This isn’t about preparing for the next Orlando, it’s about being prepared for Life. Car accidents happen. Old age happens. And when those things, and others, do happen lets all be prepared so those we love can be in the hospital next to us and provided for after we die.

 

Thanks to Andrew Asplund for looking over this post before I published it and providing some very useful insights.


1 The shooter makes 50. His actions prove he was barely human and certainly not a ‘person’.

2 Retirement, investment, bank accounts, and insurance policies can bypass Wills and probate if they have payable-on-death (POD) / transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiaries assigned. I hope to discuss these further in another blog post.

Don’t call me queer

The past two decades, LGBTQ folks have been taking back the once-pejorative ‘queer’ as their own. Many folks elect not to identify as an individual letter of the alphabet soup, but solely as queer, seeing any individual letter as too constraining or restrictive. Others are adopting queer as a political identifier, often indicating their rejection of heteronormativity.

Groups have started incorporating queer into their names as an indicator of broad, general acceptance of all shapes of gender identity and sexual orientation. Just a few days ago, the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival announced that they’ve renamed themselves TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival. Other examples of LGBTQ groups that use queer to try and encompass a larger audience are QueerPeopleOfTech and MN Queer Science (the LGBTQ science group at the University of Minnesota that Daniel co-founded).

While trying to be more encompassing, queer can be othering and divisive, and is far from being a generally accepted umbrella term in the community. There are many people, myself included, who do not identify with the word queer despite broadly identifying with many aspects of the above definition.

Some of us have proudly identified as gay or lesbian for years, fighting for our families and communities to treat us as equals despite those labels and can’t fathom switching now. Or maybe it’s that queer’s modern definition still leads with ‘strange; odd’ and many of us have been called that enough already in our lives. Perhaps it’s a generational thing and that generations younger than mine are embracing and reclaiming queer the way my generation and those before me embraced and reclaimed gay.

Regardless, if you really must call me something besides friend or fellow human1, stick to gay before queer.


1 Even better, pronounce it like the Ferengi: hyoo-män.

Rainbow allies

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling was momentous and emotional. But the thing that made me break down in tears today is seeing our allies celebrate with us: there are so many of them!

After the announcement, Facebook made an easy way to create a rainbow overlay of your profile picture. Today you can thumb through your news feed and it’s rainbow picture after rainbow picture. Post after post of excitement over the ruling. And that is powerful. What’s more powerful is seeing how many of them aren’t LGBT, but straight-allies. Some I expected, some I didn’t. Both made me cry.

Yesterday happened for many reasons, but straight allies are the biggest reason we won in the end. They’ve been part of this fight from the beginning, helping change hearts and minds alongside us. For many, their visible support resulted in hard converstaions with friends and family who didn’t get it. And they’ve had those conversations. We didn’t get to over 50% approval rating for gay marriage by ourselves.

To every ally: my most sincere, heart-felt thank you. Thank you for being with us along the way and thank you for joining in the celebration.

Now, please pass the tissues.

Birthday Countdown: Today’s the day!

Well hello 36, fancy meeting you here.

Today marks my 36th trip around the sun and my 4th year in Seattle.1 My first couple of years here I wasn’t certain that I’d stay for any length of time, but I’ve really become attached to the city. Perhaps not so much to the seemingly endless days of darkness around the winter solstice, but the city at least.

I’ve never really identified with a city like I have Seattle. I loved living in Austin and Denver — both were really great cities — but I never felt like they were “my city” the same way I do about Seattle. I think a large part of that is living so close to downtown and being a pedestrian in it daily.

I’m really looking forward to my 36th year. The past decade has been the best time of my life, both relationally, professionally, and personally. I feel like I’ve finally found my stride and am thoroughly enjoying the journey not just striving for a destination. I have Really Big Plans for this upcoming year and am excited to see how they pan out.

Thank you all for joining me in my journey!

In honor of my 36th birthday, I’m asking people to please consider donating $36 (or $360 (or $3600 if you’re feeling really generous)) to Lambert House. You can do so via their Network for Good page or send them a check directly to PO Box 23111, Seattle WA 98102. I have no way of tracking how much the donations add up to, so I’m not looking for a specific dollar amount. If you feel inclined, I’d enjoy knowing if you’ve donated something, anything, to this very worthy cause by commenting on this blog entry or on the Facebook post.

1 Benjamin and I drove into Seattle the evening of my birthday on our move up from Denver. The most memorable part of that birthday was having our air mattress deflate that evening after an exhausting 8 hour drive.