January 06, 2019 Winter 2019

Getting to Know Commissioner Howard Bye-Torre

Howard is Of Counsel with the firm Stoel Rives LLP in the firm's Seattle office, where he assistts business, governmental and church clients with their employee benefits legal needs.  Howard is serving his third and final year as an ABA SOGI Commissioner.

Howard, what led to your involvement in LGBTQ2 Advocacy?

HBT: I first became involved in the movement to allow for same sex marriage and domestic partnerships from the time we first moved to Washington 11 years ago. That involvement included raising money for ballot propositions for marriage equality.   
I have always had an interest in marriage equality because of the impact it has on health plans and the availability of health benefits for same sex couples. For me, that’s personal and professional. My personal interest is as a gay man and for the benefit of my family and friends.

What led to SOGI and becoming a Commissioner?

HBT: I have been active in the Health Law Section for many years and served as the liaison to SOGI from the Health Law Section. I was then appointed to the SOGI Commission. I have also served on the editorial board of the ABA Health Lawyer publication for 12 years.  

What Accomplishments from your work on the Commission are most important to you and give you a sense of pride?

HBT: I enjoy utilizing my expertise in how to provide employee benefits for employees and their same sex partners. I am proud of that work.  I co-authored a book on employee benefits for domestic partners prior to the recognition of marriage equality by the U.S. Supreme Court. Most of my clients wanted to provide benefits for same sex partners of employees, and I have enjoyed working with them to provide that.  It has been a joy to work in a part of the country where that expertise is valued by my clients.

Howard, I see your undergraduate degree is in piano performance.  Tell me about that.

HBT: I grew up in Scarville, a tiny farming community in Iowa, with a population of 90, and started piano lessons in the 4th grade. I have now been a church musician for almost 50 years. I have really enjoyed that as an avocation in addition to being a lawyer. There are a lot of similarities. Music involves recognizing patterns and involves logic and problem-solving skills. Lawyering involves much of the same problem-solving as music.  Music can be a creative outlet apart from the practice of law, and it can be a lot of fun.

Tell me about your family.

HBT: My husband John is a priest in the American National Catholic Church and is a psychotherapist. We have been together for 14 years and got married in Manhattan in 2011 when marriage became legal in New York. John and I each have two adult children from previous relationships. We have a pug named  Trekkie Monster, after the character in Avenue Q.

What else should people know about you?  What are your interests beyond music and the practice of law?

HBT: Well, I am a big Disney fan. I blame it on being born in 1955, the year Disneyland opened. For the third month of my sabbatical last year, my sister and I rented a house in Orlando for the month to get Disney out of our systems. Our plan was to do it all, and as much as we wanted.

Did it work?

HBT: No, I still have not gotten Disney out of my system and I’m going back to Orlando next week. Like they say – it’s the happiest place in the world.

Jeff Brodin

SOGI Commissioner

Thanks to Jeff Brodin for conducting this interview for The Equalizer. Please note, The Equalizer’s editors may have changed the varying sexual orientation and gender identity acronyms to “LGBTQ2” for consistency.

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