Michigan’s first openly gay man, prominent LGBTQ activist from Ann Arbor, dies at 91

WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – The person widely regarded as Michigan‘s first openly gay man and one of its most prominent LGBTQ activists has passed away, several officials have said.

Jim Toy, 91, died on New Years Day on Saturday, Washtenaw County Commissioner Jason Morgan said on social media.

Morgan and many officials have spoken of Toy’s advocacy for gay issues since the 1970s, where he raised awareness and wrote policies to protect the gay community from discrimination.

“Jim Toy was and always will be a champion for LGBTQ rights and our community,” Morgan said. “He was a mentor, a friend and someone I admired. I am honored to have known Jim.

US Representative Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said “love keeps winning” because of Toy’s work.

“Throughout his life he worked to ensure that the communities of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County were safe spaces where residents could live with pride and without fear of discrimination,” Dingell wrote on Twitter. .

Many gay activists believe Toy is the first man to publicly walk out of Michigan, after appearing at a rally in Detroit in 1970.

Toy told MLive / The Ann Arbor News in 2015 that his coming out was an accident, despite representing the Detroit Gay Liberation Front at the rally as a founding member. He was also a founding member of the same organization in Ann Arbor.

“Our speaker at the anti-Vietnam War rally in Detroit said he wasn’t going to speak, so I finally spoke and walked out,” he said. “It was April 15, 1970.”

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A clinical social worker by training, he received his master’s degree from the University of Michigan. He did much of his work at the University of Ann Arbor, as the Diversity Coordinator in the former Office of Institutional Equity until 2008.

He also helped establish the university’s Office of Human Sexuality, considered “the first academic center in history” dedicated to supporting sexual minority groups, according to his biography.

“Jim Toy was a legendary alumnus, activist, honorary degree recipient and person to whom our entire university community is deeply indebted,” UM Board Chairman Jordan Acker wrote on Twitter. “May his memory be a blessing.”

Much of its work took place in Washtenaw County, which inspired the county’s LGBTQ rights center to be renamed the Jim Toy Community Center in 2010.

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Other work in Ann Arbor included co-founding the Ann Arbor Gay Helpline in 1972, drafting the town’s “Lesbian and Gay Pride Week Proclamation” that same year, and formulating the city ​​policy of non-discrimination on sexual orientation. He did similar political work for the city of Ypsilanti, Michigan Medicine, and UM.

He also inspired more lesbian and gay support in Christian churches, since he was appointed in 1971 to the Diocesan Commission on Homosexuality by the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan in 1971. As recently as 2019, he was appointed to the Diocesan Commission on Homosexuality. been honored by the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Detroit.

Toy “fought with every bone in his body to support the LGBTQ community,” Dingell wrote.

“Often times I think of Jim’s words, ‘I pledge to do as much trouble as possible to create and maintain justice,” she wrote.

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