Jim Toy, a lifelong advocate of LGBTQ+ rights who was widely believed to be the first openly gay man in the state of Michigan, peacefully passed away on January 1 at the age of 91, according to The Detroit Free Press.
As early as the 1970s, Toy was a prominent voice in fighting discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in clinical social work and helped to establish the University’s Human Sexuality Office — now referred to as the Spectrum Center — which became the “first campus center in history” committed to supporting LGBTQ+ individuals.
“I’m saddened to hear of the death of Jim Toy, national social justice advocate, life-long champion of LGBTQ+ rights, pioneer of the @UMSpectrumCtr & 2021 @UMich honorary degree recipient,” University President Mark Schlissel wrote on social media. “May we all honor his legacy by offering our support to all who experience discrimination.”
At a 1970 anti-Vietnam War rally in Kennedy Square, Detroit, Toy became the first man in the state to publicly come out as gay while representing the Detroit Gay Liberation Front. He later went on to become a founding member of the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front.
Many local officials, including Washtenaw County Commissioner Jason Morgan, also spoke to Toy’s legacy and impact on the community on social media.
“Jim Toy was and will always be a champion for LGBTQ rights and for our community,” Morgan wrote in a Tweet. “He was a mentor, friend and someone I admired. I am honored to have known Jim.”
Ann Arbor City Councilmember Travis Radina, D-Ward 3, served alongside Toy at the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project, which was renamed the Jim Toy Community Center in 2010. Radina shared on Facebook that Toy was a thoughtful and wise mentor, who went on to co-author the first official Pride Week declaration adopted by the Ann Arbor City Council.
“Most people who are lucky to live as long as Jim did have experienced amazing and great lives,” Radina wrote. “But Jim wasn’t satisfied to simply live a great life for himself. He dedicated nearly all of his time with us to ensuring that others could live great lives as well — and to live them openly, safely and as our true selves, surrounded by friends and unwavering love.”
Radina also noted Toy was a co-author on Ann Arbor’s first non-discrimmination policy on sexual orientation as well as a strong proponent of adding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the University’s non-discrimmination bylaw.
Flowers and memories can be sent through the Muehlig Funeral Chapel. No services have been scheduled.