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Longtime LGBTQ activist Jim Toy reflects on a life devoted to equality and justice

Jim Toy sitting and State Rep Yousef Rahbi standing on stage
Courtesy of Jim Toy Center
LGBTQ activist Jim Toy (right) and Michigan State Rep. Yousef Rabhi (left) at Ann Arbor Pride.

This year’s Pride Month celebrations coincided with a major victory for the LGBTQ community. The U.S. Supreme Court last week ruled that workplace protections outlined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 apply to gay and transgender people. 

The ruling comes after decades of work by activists in Michigan and elsewhere to expand legal rights and protections for the LGBTQ community. One of those activists is Jim Toy. 

Toy grew up in Ohio and moved to Michigan as a young man in the late 1960s. He studied at the University of Michigan, where he became involved in the anti-war movement.

Toy became one of the most well-known gay men in the state after he came out publicly on April 15, 1970 at an anti-Vietnam War rally. Toy said that coming out publicly attracted media attention, but more importantly, it gave a voice to others in the LGBTQ community. 

"I am committed to making as much trouble as I can to create and maintain justice," he said.

That very public coming out put him on the path to be one of Michigan’s most influential LGBTQ activists. He helped start the University of Michigan’s Human Sexuality Office, and co-wrote Ann Arbor’s nondiscrimination policy. Toy was also active in the fight against AIDS/HIV. 

It's a very different world for young LGBTQ people than it was in the 1970s. But while there has been significant progress both legally and culturally, advocates say there is still a long way to go. For someone coming into their own identity as an LGBTQ person in the current moment, Toy has this advice:

“I hope that you will recognize yourself for who you are in your entire being and that you will find support for yourself, and that you will find community support for yourself, and I wish you the best,” Toy said.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan. 

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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