Column: Happy Birthday, Jim Toy

"The city has advanced freedom and justice without ceasing for many oppressed individuals and groups and will continue to do so."

A mayoral proclamation made at the Ann Arbor city council’s April 15, 2013 session was not recorded in The Chronicle’s report of that meeting. Omission of such proclamations is pretty typical for our meeting reports.

Jim Toy

Jim Toy sitting in the audience at the Ann Arbor city council’s April 15, 2013 meeting.

In this case, I think it’s worth circling back to pick up that proclamation, which declared today, April 29, 2013, to be Jim Toy Day in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s Toy’s 83rd birthday.

The proclamation itself details how Toy was the first publicly out gay man in Michigan, and whose advocacy work over the last 40 years has included, among other things, the founding of the program that became the Spectrum Center at the University of Michigan. He’s the namesake of the Jim Toy Community Center.

The proclamation made at the April 15 city council meeting earned Toy an uncommon standing ovation from councilmembers.

What I wanted to record in The Chronicle’s archives were Toy’s own remarks, which he delivered after receiving the honor. The meeting took place several hours after the bombings at the Boston Marathon, which Toy briefly mentions.

Jim Toy: Mr. Mayor, members of council, staff of the city of Ann Arbor, my comrades, and our allies, I am more grateful and humbled than I can say for this recognition – the recognition of the work of our entire constituency and of our allies. The city has advanced freedom and justice without ceasing for many oppressed individuals and groups and will continue to do so.

We thank everyone in our inter-sex, transgender, bi-sexual, lesbian, gay male, queer community, and we thank our allies for your support and advocacy through these two score years of working for justice and freedom – justice and freedom compromised and stained by the blood that has been shed by countless victims of anti-TBLGQ violence, violence generated by fear and hatred, as blood has been shed today in Boston.

Let me thank you all with deep gratitude for your patient support since 1971. I thank you for enduring my inadequacies, my prejudices, my isms, and my fear. I beg forgiveness of all whom I have ignored, neglected and wounded during these 40 years.

And now let’s look around us.

We see our past, we see our present, we see our future. As we move into our future I think of our sister, Audre Lorde. Our sister Audre said, “If we wait until we are unafraid to speak, we will be speaking from our graves. It is not difference that immobilizes us, it is silence.” And Audre continues, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision – then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

When I was in college, Robert Frost came to our campus to give a lecture and a poetry reading. And of course he read his poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I’ve taken the liberty of changing the last stanza:

The closet’s lonely, dark and deep,
So we have promises to keep,
And miles to go before we sleep,
And miles to go before we sleep.

Namaste. Walk in sunshine.

About the writer: Dave Askins is editor and co-founder of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.


  1. By Sandi Smith
    April 29, 2013 at 8:06 am | permalink

    Happy Jim Toy Day!

  2. By Nancy Quay
    April 29, 2013 at 12:56 pm | permalink

    How lovely! Happy birthday, Jim, and many, many happy returns of the day.

  3. By James Jefferson
    April 29, 2013 at 7:52 pm | permalink

    I attended that meeting to speak before council on city matters, and was moved and motivated to speak my mind after hearing Mr.Toy’s remarks.. I suspect others were, too. Never has it been so important to voice one’s concerns and opinions. We can only hope that people are listening.

  4. By Ryan Freed
    April 30, 2013 at 8:37 am | permalink

    We all must take action, untill the mayor and certain council members realize we are not going to sacrifise our tax dollars for their personal intrest. There will be a large number of citizens speaking the topic will be “Conflict of Intrest ” Please come to the May 6 City Council meeting and let your voices be heard. Please make sure to call the city clerks office and sign up for public comentary……..

  5. By anna ercoli schnitzer
    May 1, 2013 at 6:58 am | permalink

    Jim Toy is an American hero, one who was not afraid to step out and speak out when “the closet was lonely, dark, and deep.” I remember how alone he seemed in doing so, in our community those many years ago. Thank you, Jim, for leading the way and for inspiring others to follow.

  6. By Jim Toy
    May 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm | permalink

    Greatly-belated thanks, Dave and all!

    This has been a community effort from the beginning–

    Speak the truth to Power’s face,
    Justice, Truth and Love embrace!