(LA Blade) One of Michigan’s most prominent LGBT activists, Jim Toy, who many consider being the first out gay man in state history, died Saturday on New Year’s Day.

He was 91. 

Toy officially came out on April 15, 1970, telling MLive in 2015 that it was an accident. “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,” he said. 

Toy, a trained clinical social worker and University of Michigan (UM) graduate, was known for his dedication to the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the state. The Detroit News noted that the beloved gay rights activist sat at nearly every table and chanted at every protest, constantly pushing the debate forward.

“Jim Toy was and will always be a champion for LGBTQ rights and our community,” tweeted Washtenaw County Commissioner Jason Morgan in a post announcing Toy’s death. “He was a mentor, friend and someone I admired. I am honored to have known Jim.”

Much of what Toy accomplished happened at his alma mater, where he served as the diversity coordinator in the Office of Institutional Equity until 2008. In 1971, he helped establish the UM’s Human Sexuality Office (HSO), renamed the Spectrum Center, which is considered the first campus center devoted to sexual minorities in history.

Toy also advocated for victims of late UM sports doctor Robert Anderson, who is accused of sexual assault by more than 1,000 people, mostly men. He later revealed to The Detroit News that he also had a troubling encounter with Anderson when he was a graduate student at the school.

“Jim Toy was a legendary alum, activist, honorary degree recipient, and someone our entire university community is deeply indebted to,” tweeted UM Board of Regents Chair Jordan Acker. “May his memory be a blessing.”

In 1972, he co-authored Ann Arbor’s Pride Week Proclamation, the first official Pride Week proclamation by a governing body in the United States. He also played a role in writing the city’s non-discrimination policy on sexual orientation.

Toy did extensive work in churches, attempting to inspire more LGBT support amongst Christians. He was appointed to the Diocesan Commission on Homosexuality by the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan in 1971. The Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Detroit honored Toy in 2019, calling him an “LGBTQ icon.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) also took to Twitter to remember Toy. 

“Often I think about Jim’s words, ‘I am committed to making as much trouble as I can to create and maintain justice,’” she said. “He fought with every bone in his body to support the LGBTQ community, to fight for marriage equality, to ensure protections for so many.”


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