4.6.17 Editor’s Desk

By : Billy Manes
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As some of you might recall, I’ve been through a public battle with gun violence, suicide and gay marriage for the past few years. As some of you also know, I am married now to my best friend, Tony (two years and counting). The only reason I bring this up is that I couldn’t have survived the suicide of Alan Jordan, my partner of 11 years, without the assistance of Equality Florida and Orlando attorney Mary Meeks.

This issue, we celebrate 20 years of Equality Florida’s work throughout the state. This is an organization that came from virtually nothing and grew into the leading force for municipal and statewide rulings on LGBTQ rights at a time that most thought Florida was going to drip into the backwoods of the South. Equality Florida published a letter that I wrote to Florida state senators in 2013, one year after Alan took his life in front of me, with a gun, in our backyard. So, for the sake of posterity, as April 8 was the day he left me, I present you with a shortened version of that letter, and I wish you well as we persevere through these difficult times.

I met my partner, Alan Jordan, in January 2001. We were opposites – he a former football player at Auburn University with a southern drawl and the politics to match; me, a liberal extrovert. But nonetheless we quickly fell in love. In 2002, we bought a house together, though my name wasn’t on the deed, and we set about forming our family – our dogs, our friends, our birthday parties and backyard barbeques.

When he got his pilot’s license, I bit my lip and flew in his single-engine puddle-jumper. When his father died in 2006 and he made the decision to commute back and forth to Georgia to take care of his mother, I held down the fort in Orlando. When his health started to deteriorate, I was there every step of the way—doctors’ offices, therapists, disability, you name it.

In 2008, as Amendment 2 loomed, we contacted an attorney and executed all of the documents available to LGBTQ families in Florida: power of attorney, health surrogate, and a will, among others. We were as much a legal couple as the laws of the state of Florida permitted us to be.

On Easter Sunday of 2012, after a long battle with health problems and depression, Alan shot himself in the chest in the backyard of our house. I screamed; I tried to resuscitate him; I called 911. But it was no use.

Before I’d even washed his blood out of my hair, Alan’s brother showed up on my doorstep. In the next 24 hours, he identified Alan’s body at the morgue, had it cremated without my knowledge or consent, changed his address with the postmaster, and began walking around my house identifying items that the family thought belonged to them: a lawnmower, tools, guns, the commitment rings on my fingers. They ignored the fact that everything in our house belonged to both of us. I was in shock and distraught, as you can imagine. But I still made clear to them, as I gave them the will that left everything to me, that I wanted to work with the family in a manner that was fair for both of us. I understood that they were in pain – and that they didn’t know that Alan was in a relationship with a man.

Before we could even file the will in Orange County court, I learned that the family had already opened a probate case listing Alan’s mother as his personal representative and sole beneficiary. What followed was a nightmare. On top of my grief and uncertainty and horror, I found myself having to fight to claim what our legal documents already said was mine. I obtained a court order to correct the probate and to get the items that had been removed from my house returned. However, after thousands of dollars and months and of legal wrangling I gave up. I sacrificed most of the assets to which I was legally entitled for the sake of my sanity.

I don’t think that the family was acting capriciously – at least now I don’t. They, like me, were grieving, trying to come to terms with an unspeakable loss. Death so often brings out the worst in people.

And so I’m here to ask you to right this wrong. I recognize that under the state’s constitution, I am unable to marry the person I love. And he’s gone anyway. But how can we, as a state, in good conscience, even as we praise the family as the backbone of our society, deny even the most basic, fundamental rights to hundreds of thousands of your constituents who pay their taxes, go to work, and play by the rules? I don’t believe that I’m asking for much. All I’m asking for is compassion and dignity. Please don’t let that be too much.

Thank you, Equality Florida.

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