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January 7, 2022

Remembering Jim Toy

Jim Toy honored in UMS audience

UMS honored Jim Toy in a December 2019 presentation of Taylor Mac’s ‘Holiday Sauce.’

UMS, the University of Michigan, and the Ann Arbor community mourn the passing of a dear friend, Jim Toy. Jim was a trailblazer for LGBTQ+ rights locally and nationwide, co-founder of the U-M Spectrum Center, and namesake of the Jim Toy Community Center serving Washtenaw County.

Jim shared much about his life and work — from his journey of self-discovery to becoming a human and civil rights leader — in this 2015 interview with NBC News. At an anti-Vietnam War rally in 1970, he famously became the first person in the state of Michigan to publicly come out as a gay man:

“In the course of my speech against the war I was inspired to share my name, my age, and the reality that I was gay. No other person in Michigan had come out publicly prior to that day.”

In December 2019, UMS honored him and his heroic work for the LGBTQ+ community at a performance of Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce. Jim was a violinist and lover of the arts, and a generous supporter of UMS who attended our events for decades. Ken Fischer, UMS President Emeritus, shared these words:

I will always hold Jim close to my heart and cherish our friendship. I was honored to serve as MC of a university event at Rackham Auditorium that honored Jim many years ago. In doing research on Jim and speaking in advance with those who would speak and perform at the event, I became aware of the profound impact Jim had on the lives of countless people. He was a warm and gentle soul who, like civil rights leader John Lewis, led a life of causing “good trouble” and urged others to do the same. Jim’s way of saying it was “Keep misbehavin’.”

Prominent Michigan activists and historians shared memories of Jim in a feature by PBS News Hour. His obituary published by The University Record also includes this poignant 2012 video celebrating his legacy at the U-M Spectrum Center.