Jim Toy was the first TBLGQ person in Michigan to come out of the closet publicly, during his speech at an anti-Vietnam War rally in Kennedy Square, Detroit, in April, 1970. At the rally Jim was representing the Detroit Gay Liberation Movement, of which he was a founding member. He was as well a founding member of the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front. In 1971, he helped establish the Lesbian-Gay Male Programs Office at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The LGMPO was the first staffed office in a United States institution of higher learning, and presumably the first of its kind in the world, to advocate for sexual orientation concerns. Jim served as its co-coordinator from 1971 until 1994. He co-founded the Ann Arbor Gay Hotline in 1972 and served as the office's Coordinator and Trainer until 1985.
Trained in his early years in French, violin, and musicology, Jim over time became aware that he was called to a life of social service, working together with the disadvantaged, the underserved, the stigmatized and the oppressed, and advocating for their rights. This vocation was perhaps foretold by the selfless lives of his parents, Ruth and James Toy; his Baptist-missionary grandparents, Alice and Samuel Hamblen; his violin teacher, Sam Gelfer; and a series of radical Episcopal priests: Joseph Dickson, David Gracie, James Markunas, and Robert Morrison, with whom he worked at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Detroit from 1957 through 1971.
As a Chinese-American, Jim was the survivor of harassment on the basis of race: a high-school classmate remembers that during World War II he often saw Jim wearing around his neck a self-protective cardboard placard proclaiming that he was not Japanese.
At Denison University, where Jim received a B.A. degree, he joined a racially-inclusive, “American-letter” fraternity, the American Commons Club. Eleanor Roosevelt was given ACC’s fraternity pin in recognition of her support of Marian Anderson and other African Americans. At the award ceremony Jim had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Roosevelt, some years after he had tolled the bell of the local Episcopal church to mark the nationwide observance of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s funeral.
Jim later struggled for many years to accept the gift and burden of being gay until his public coming out in 1970 (above). In 1972, Jim became the co-author of the first official “Lesbian-Gay Pride Week Proclamation” by a governing body in the United States, the Ann Arbor City Council. He was the co-author of the City's non-discrimination policy re: sexual orientation (1972). He participated (1973-2007) in the ultimately successful efforts to amend the University of Michigan’s non-discrimination by-law so as to include in it gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation as protected categories.
In 1971 Jim co-founded the Lesbian-Gay Male Programs Office at the University of Michigan. The LGMPO (later renamed as the Spectrum Center) was the first staff office in a United States institution of higher learning to respond to sexual-orientation concerns. He served as LGMPO co-coordinator from 1971 until 1994.
He engaged in the successful campaigns to create and retain the City of Ypsilanti’s non-discrimination ordinance (1997-1998 and 1999-2000). In 1999, Jim and Dr. Sandra Cole, founder and former director of the University of Michigan Health Systems Comprehensive Gender Services Program, wrote the language of Ann Arbor’s non-discrimination policy re: gender identity.
In 1971, Bishop Richard Emrich of the Diocese of Michigan (Episcopal) appointed Jim a founding member of the Diocesan Commission on Homosexuality. The group created a paper entitled "Report & Recommendations of the Commission on Homosexuality" (1973), one of the earliest church documents in this country to advocate for the support of homosexual people. Since 1975, Jim has served as the secretary of the Diocesan Church & Society Committee. He is a co-author of the Diocesan Human Sexuality Curriculum and a founding member of the diocesan Committee on TBLG Concerns and the diocesan Oasis TBLG Outreach Ministry.
After what we term “HIV/AIDS” had become a matter of public knowledge Jim helped found (1986) Wellness Networks/Huron Valley (now HARC, the HIV/AIDS Resource Center/Washtenaw County). He became the first co-coordinator of HIV/AIDS Education for the Episcopal Diocese in 1987. He has served since 1987 as a certified Pre- & Post-Test HIV/AIDS Counselor and as a support group facilitator and volunteer trainer for HARC. He is a founding member of the City of Ann Arbor HIV/AIDS Task Force and of two four-county HIV/AIDS prevention and resource-provision groups.
He is a founding member of the Washtenaw County LGBT Retirement Center Task Force, PFLAG/Ann Arbor, Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project (since renamed to the Jim Toy Community Center), Ypsilanti Human Rights PAC, Ypsilanti Rainbow Neighbors, and the Out Loud Chorus. He is a founding member of the recently-created Inclusive Justice-Together in Faith coalition in Michigan and of the SE. Michigan LGBT ELders Coalition. He is a past executive board member of Guild House (“A Campus Ministry”).
In Jim’s work as a therapist, counselor, trainer, facilitator, educator, and advocate he has sought to share the burden of those to whom he has been called to minister. In so doing he has attempted to resonate to their other “burden”, the fundamental tone of their lives, the refrain of their life song, their basis for being--as we resonate to the “burden”, or deepest tone in a peal of bells, or to the “burden,” or chorus of a carol. And to do that he has had to face the reality of his own stigmatization so as to let himself resonate to his own pain, and finally come to accept and affirm his sexual orientation. For until we know and accept ourselves we cannot helpfully reach out to our neighbors. Charity indeed begins at home. And from that necessary beginning, it can expand and transform the world.
The archives generated by Jim's work at the University of Michigan Lesbian Gay Male Programs Office are housed at the Bentley Historical Library of the University.
Jim Toy died on January 1, 2022 at the age of 91. The LGBTQ community center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been named the Jim Toy Community Center.
(This biographical statement provided by Jim Toy.)
Biography Date: June, 2004