Feeling Unsafe in Trump’s Rural America

This weekend Daniel and I got out of town and stayed at a lovely AirBnB out in Deming, WA — about 2 hours north of Seattle. Our AirBnB hosts were delightful people and our stay was great. Along the way I figured out that I now feel unsafe in rural America.

You don’t have to get far outside of Seattle to see pro-Trump signs. They’re on the side of I-5 as well as alongside small backroads but all primarily in rural areas. This isn’t surprising, urban centers are typically lean liberal (read: Democrat) and rural areas typically lean conservative (read: Republican). As someone who grew up in a rural, very conservative, area of the country I have first-hand experience with the racism and homophobia that go with such insular, isolated, usually-religious communities. Rural areas didn’t suddenly get more racist or homophobic the day Trump was elected, but they did get implicit affirmation that it’s OK to vent those opinions vocally, just like their new President did on the campaign trail.

As we left I-5 in left-leaning Whatcom county I started to feel more uncomfortable, wondering if it really was safe for two gay guys to stay at an AirBnB in a very rural area. After we checked in and walked along the road to the Nooksack river, I wondered if it was safe for us to be seen together as trucks with gun racks drove past. When the owner of the general store looked us over as we walked in together I wondered if we were in a safe place. I don’t know if we were or not but I felt unsafe all the same.

We got back to Seattle without incident this afternoon and I read about how Trump praised leaders of homophobic groups, as sharp contrast to former-President Obama’s proclamation of support. It’s no wonder I don’t feel safe in Trump-land.

I’m realize I’m being irrational, but I told Daniel that for our vacation this fall I didn’t want to visit any US county that went to Trump. That effectively nixed our plans to visit Alaska. I’m not all sad about this though, there are tons of wonderful blue cities in the US and literally hundreds of countries to visit where I feel safe. I’m sure they won’t mind taking my liberal US dollar either.

Allergic to religion

I grew up in a small Texas town where there were more churches – 23 to be exact – than banks and restaurants combined. We attended church as a family every Sunday morning for Sunday school and service, not to mention youth choir, youth group, Wednesday night service and more. There I learned sex before marriage was wrong, good girls dressed demurely, wives were subservient to their husbands, hate the sin & love the sinner, and that all gays were going to hell.

The last bit was more than a little inconvenient when I figured out that I was gay around the age of 12. I then spent the next 9 years praying to god to take away my feelings and make me straight. Eternal damnation can be a pretty strong motivator. I had almost a decade of self-loathing, self-hating, and depression before deciding that literally the only way I was going to survive was believing that god made me gay. I was fortunate that I was able to turn that corner. Many LGBT youth do not.

When I was 22 during my first job after college I struggled to reconcile being gay and Christian. I approached the youth minister at the Baptist church I was attending for help. He counseled me that being celibate in both mind and body was the only way to be gay and also live in god’s grace. We formed a friendship and played racquetball at the local Y after work. At least until this Baptist youth minister with a wife and kids hit on me in the locker room after a match. I guess celibacy only applies to non-closeted homos.

I found another church in Austin that appeared to accept me. “Come as you are” was their slogan. Early on I met with the teaching pastor at a coffee shop and we discussed my apprehension about attending the church given my prior experiences. He assured me that I was welcome – and I was for a while. I was an ASL interpreter almost every Sunday for 4 years until they decided that no one who was gay could be a “spiritual leader” in the church. They then proceeded to debate if interpreting the sermon counted as being a spiritual leader. If so, I would be asked to step down. I was just a few months away from moving to Denver so I bypassed the charades altogether and stopped attending the church.

Despite that betrayal I sought out and attended a church regularly after moving to Denver. Like a domestic violence survivor, I kept going back.

Then came California’s Prop-8. Nothing brings good Christians together like hate.

Catholics, Mormons, Evangelicals, and other religious groups all banded together to force their belief of “traditional marriage” on others using lies and deception. All to revoke the rights of loving couples to obtain a civil marriage — a purely civil and non-religious contract that provides many important legal rights that cannot be obtained by other means. The final day of the Prop-8 trial was the day I decided that I wanted nothing to do with religion of any kind. God and his followers could go screw themselves. I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. To quote my blog entry at the time: forget the bathwater, the baby’s dead.

Since that day I have a very strong allergic reaction to religion of any kind. I get defensive. I get sad. I get angry. I lash out. I do whatever is necessary to protect myself from the feeling of deep betrayal and memories of self-loathing and self-hatred. Religious-themed Christmas music triggers it. Attending a function in a religious building triggers it. Knowing how many pious Evangelicals voted for Trump despite his bigotry, misogyny, and racism continues to set me off daily.

The damage to me is done and I want no part of it. I have been abused by religion enough and I am fortunate to have escaped with my life. The day I turned my back on religion was a turning point in my life. Since then I have become a healthier, happier, more caring, more compassionate, more empathetic, and more loving person.

 

#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.