Longtime Ann Arbor LGBTQ activist Jim Toy dies at 91

(Photo: Filmic Productions)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – James W. “Jim” Toy has left behind an unwavering legacy of LGBTQ community support and policy reform.

The Ann Arbor activist died on Saturday, New Year’s Day, at age 91.

“Jim 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,” wrote Congresswoman Debbie Dingell on Twitter. “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.”

Ann Arbor area officials, including Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, Ann Arbor City Councilmember Travis Radina and University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, paid their respects to Toy on social media, praising his championing of marriage equality, LGBTQ rights and advocacy.

Having grown up in Ohio with every type of “-ism”, Toy publicly came out in 1970 during an anti-Vietnam war rally in Detroit as a member of the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front, he told A4 in 2017.

“I get up there and I speak out against the war. What moved me to do it, I do not know. I said: ‘My name is Jim Toy, I’m 40 years old, and I’m a gay man,” Toy recalled.

Read: A chat with activist, gay rights champion Jim Toy

Considered to be the first openly gay man in Michigan, Toy’s lifetime of tireless advocacy has impacted the Washtenaw County LGBTQ community in countless ways.

He aided in the establishment of the University of Michigan Human Sexuality Office (now the Spectrum Center), the creation of the Ann Arbor Gay Hotline, the first official “Lesbian-Gay Pride Week Proclamation,” and the foundation of the Wellness Networks/Huron Valley (now Unified: HIV Health and Beyond.)

Toy’s work includes a wide-reaching impact on local policy. He co-authored the City of Ann Arbor’s non-discrimination policy on sexual orientation and gender identity, and helped the City of Ypsilanti to create a non-discrimination ordinance.

Toy with the worked with the U-M to amend non-discrimination bylaws to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, as protected categories.

The Jim Toy Library at the Ann Arbor university, which holds over 1,500 titles, and the Jim Toy Community Center are named in his honor.

Toy’s work has also influenced religious bodies in Michigan. In 1971, he was appointed to the Diocesan Commission on Homosexuality at the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. He co-wrote the Diocesan Human Sexuality Curriculum and was honored at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Detroit.

In 2017, Toy told A4, “In any community, there are all of these individual threads, each of which has a sub-thread. We’re all connected in whatever we do.”

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.