Guest Column: Climbing the Mountain of Justice

Jim Toy left an indelible, immeasurable mark on the LGBTQ community and civil rights movement.
By Travis Radina, ’08


Read time: 3 minutes

On New Year’s Day of this year, the University, Ann Arbor, and LGBTQ communities lost a truly legendary person when Jim Toy, MSW’81, died peacefully at the age of 91.

Many people who are lucky to live that long experience great lives. But he wasn’t satisfied simply to live a great life for himself. He dedicated nearly all his time to ensuring that others could live great lives as well—and live them openly, safely, and as our true selves.

Jim was a warrior for equality, an unrelenting activist, and a man of faith and moral purpose. He never wavered in his commitment to human rights. Never faltered when facing down the powerful. And never compromised in his belief that every person had equal value.

Jim once said he was “committed to making as much trouble as I can to create and maintain justice.” He didn’t disappoint.

In 1970, at a time when being open about one’s sexuality could result in harassment, arrest, or physical harm, Jim bravely and publicly came out as gay while speaking at a rally protesting the Vietnam War. With that speech, he became one of the first to make such a public declaration anywhere in Michigan, and he never looked back.

In addition to his many other accomplishments, Jim established the first office at any university in the world devoted to sexual orientation concerns, now known as U-M’s Spectrum Center (see page 24). He tirelessly campaigned for and eventually won amendments to U-M’s nondiscrimination bylaw to include sexual orientation and did so later for the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression.

He also co-authored the first official Pride Week declaration adopted by any governing body in the United States—the Ann Arbor City Council— and the city’s first nondiscrimination policy on sexual orientation. He did similar work fighting for change to policy and law in neighboring Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County, and the state of Michigan, and his impact on nearly every LGBTQ organization active throughout Washtenaw County can still be felt today.

But nearest and dearest to my heart were his decades of work with the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project, which was renamed the Jim Toy Community Center in 2010. It was an immense honor to serve alongside him—and learn from him—in the four years I led the center that bears his name.

Intensely humble, he often told people that he didn’t deserve the recognition he received, gently protesting the picture of him that hung on the Community Center’s wall and even insisting that the center shouldn’t have been renamed in his honor.

Despite all of his honors and accomplishments, what I will remember most is that Jim was a kind and thoughtful leader, a wise mentor, and an incredibly loyal friend. He had a special ability to make people feel that they were at the center of his universe. He saw us. He heard us. He accepted us and loved us exactly as we were. We were all his family.

As we look toward a world without Jim, I cannot think of a better way to honor his legacy than to commit to continue making as much trouble as possible to create and maintain justice.

As he often said, “We are climbing the mountain of justice, hand in hand!”

Travis Radina and Jim Toy

Travis Radina, ’08, is the senior associate director of alumni advocacy at the Alumni Association. Since 2020, he has represented Ward 3 on the Ann Arbor City Council; previously, he served for six years on the board of directors at the Jim Toy Community Center, including four years as president.

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