In 1999, I was invited by a prominent gay member of the society then known as Michigamua to join it in the role of an advisor – an “Honorary Angell.” While the group already supported diversity, members felt that they would welcome an older advocate.
As a former University student and long-time staff member, I was aware of Michigamua’s history and reputation. Was it appropriate for me, a bi-racial gay man, to become a member of the group? As an advisor, how could I effectively support both Michigamua and the campus at large?
I grew up in a racist, sexist, anti-Catholic, middle-class village in Ohio during World War II. I heard the n-word every day. I am told (I repressed the memory) that when I went to school, I wore a cardboard sign that read, “I am not a Jap.” I became imbued with racism, sexism, classism and religious bigotry. I had no knowledge of sexual orientations other than heterosexual, so my homophobia and biphobia were latent.
As I grew older I realized that my childhood experiences were out of step with my ethos. At Denison University in 1947, I joined the American Commons Club, a fraternity open to male college students of all races and ethnicities.
In 1957, I became music director at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, the first integrated Episcopal parish in the city. I marched down Woodward Avenue in the Detroit Civil Rights March of 1963, 100 yards behind the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1970, I was on the Black Action Movement picket line in front of Angell Hall. I became a supporter of Women’s Liberation. I lobbied for the creation of the Women’s Studies Program at the University.
In 1970, I co-founded the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front. When the group convinced the University in 1971 to create a staff office addressing the concerns of lesbian and gay male students, we insisted that the office be coordinated by a lesbian woman and a gay man at equal salary and bureaucratic status. I worked at the office from 1971 to 1994 as its “Gay Male Advocate.”
Yet while my actions may manifestly support people of color and women, in my soul I harbor the remnants of my sexist and racist upbringing. I challenge these feelings daily. While I believe that they have diminished in intensity, I doubt that I can totally eradicate them from my involuntary emotional memory bank.
Comparing my internal conflict to the external and sometimes mischaracterized image of Michigamua, I wondered what of value I could bring to the group.
Like some of these students who are decades my junior, I had learned that if I wished to help effect social change in organizations, I could accomplish more by working within such groups rather than by criticizing them from the outside.
So it was during the years that I served as the gay male advocate in the University’s Human Sexuality Office, later titled the Lesbian Gay Male Programs Office. So it is in the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, where, since 1970, I have provided education and advocacy concerning sexual orientation and more recently gender identity and expression.
So it is as I currently serve on the Multicultural and Gender Affairs Committee and the Community Advisory Board of the University School of Social Work.
Could I then as an Honorary Angell work with Michigamua to help effect change within that organization as well?
I accepted the invitation into membership. In my association with these students, I have been honored to work with a diverse cross-section of campus leaders committed to renewing the group – slowly, carefully and deliberately transforming it into a diverse and transparent entity dedicated to serving the University. The care these seniors have contributed each year to understanding and supporting each other, embracing the group’s diversity and quietly serving the University has supported and inspired my own activism.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. built a bridge over the troubled water of racism in this country to advance his dream of equality and justice for all. Former U.S. President Gerald Ford, a member of Michigamua, built a bridge over the troubled water of Watergate to help our nation heal.
The members of the former Michigamua are building a bridge over the complex stream of the group’s necessarily imperfect history and are moving the organization forward. I am grateful for the opportunity to help build that bridge and support that move as an honorary member of the newly-named Order of Angell.
Jim Toy is an alum of the University’s School of Social Work.