Pioneering Chinese-American gay rights activist and social worker Jim Toy, widely considered to be the first gay man to come out publicly in Michigan, has died at the age of 91.
Toy died on 1 January, according to Washtenaw county commissioner Jason Morgan, who shared the news on social media.
“Jim Toy was and will always be a champion for LGBTQ rights and the our community,” said Morgan. “He was a mentor, friend and someone I admired. I am honoured to have known Jim.”
Morgan added that Toy helped pass LGBT+ protections throughout Washtenaw county, founded the first on-campus LGBT+ resource centre at the University of Michigan, and spent his life fighting for LGBT+ equality – so much so, that he was the namesake of the The Jim Toy Community Center, a resource for the community in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and greater Washtenaw County.
Toy came out as gay at a rally in Detroit in 1970, where he was representing the Detroit Gay Liberation Front, of which he was a founding member.
In 2015, Toy described this moment to the Ann Arbor News: “Our speaker at the anti-Vietnam War rally in Detroit said he wasn’t going to speak, so finally I spoke, and I came out. That was April 15, 1970.”
Toy was a trained clinical social worker, who graduated from the University of Michigan and then worked at the university, first as a diversity coordinator and then helping to establish the university’s human sexuality office – the first on-campus centre in history dedicated to supporting people from sexual-minority groups.
He also founded the Ann Arbor Gay Hotline in 1972, wrote the city’s sexual orientation non-discrimination policy, and in 1971 was appointed to the Diocesan Commission on Homosexuality by the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan – helping to inspire more support for LGBT+ people within Christian churches.
A regular at political rallies and a trailblazer for gay rights, Toy said in 2020: “I am committed to making as much trouble as I can to create and maintain justice.”
Remembering Jim Toy, many spoke to how he had advocated for the gay community since the 1970s, when he raised awareness of anti-gay discrimination and wrote policies to protect the gay community.
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell said Toy was a “champion for equality”.
“He was a trailblazer not only for LGBTQ rights in Michigan but across the country. And he was a dear friend to me and John. Throughout his life, he worked to ensure that Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County communities were safe spaces where residents could live with pride in who they are and without fear of discrimination.
“Often I think about Jim’s words, ‘I am committed to making as much trouble as I can to create and maintain justice.’ He fought with every bone in his body to support the LGBTQ community, to fight for marriage equality, to ensure protections for so many.
“Love continues to win because of the dedication that Jim put into his work. We owe so much to him and it’s on all of us to ensure his legacy continues. I’m thinking about his family, friends, and the Ann Arbor community as we mourn this great loss.”