Retiring U.S. Rep. John Dingell dropped by to say, Thanks for your friendship, and celebrate with JTCC supporters. BTL photos: AJ Traeger

Big Happy Birthday To Jim Toy

By AJ Trager

Washtenaw County celebrated a big birthday for local community member and activist Jim Toy, namesake of the Jim Toy Community Center April 25 at the Arbor Brewing Company Microbrewery in Ypsilanti.

Toy is well known for being the first publically out gay man in Michigan and for his hard work cofounding the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front, Detroit Gay Liberation Movement and the first office at the university level devoted to sexual orientation concerns; the Lesbian-Gay Male Programs Office at the University of Michigan, today known as the Spectrum Center.

Toy, who will be 84 this year, started off his celebration with both U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D) of the Michigan 12th Congressional District and Washtenaw County Commissioner Andy LaBarre in attendance.

Chris Osborn works on JTCC's Public Policy and spent most of his evening working the welcome table donned in gay pride flags and buttons available for pickup by guests.

"I am overwhelmed with the turnout. There is so much support in the community. And what a great night to bring everyone together," Osborn said.

The event was informal with JTCC and local residents comingling and sharing hugs with Arbor Brewing beer or hard cider in their hands. There was a DJ, a photo booth, a raffle, and, of course, plenty of dancing.

Before sunset, everyone paused for Dingell.

"Thank you all for your friendship," Dingell said. "I always appreciate the opportunity to meet with friends."

"Dingell has always been a big supporter of LBGT causes and is happy to help fundraise for the cause," Osborne mentioned. "He is a great public servant which is shown throughout his career."

Dingell took a quick exit. But not until Jason Morgan, director of government and media relations for Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, placed a purple tiara on Jim Toy's head that read "Happy Birthday."

"I am most gracious Rep. Dingell was able to attend the celebration. I am amazed he has survived congress for so long," Toy joked, adjusting his hairpiece.

"He represents for me the epitome of political service in advancing the rights and liberties of everyone. We will not see his like again," Toy said.

Spread out in the back of the room was a timeline, reaching before the 1970s, where attendees were encouraged to post important moments of their life in any color of their choosing next to big events such as the Civil Rights Movement, President Obama's reelection or the recent same-sex marriages in Michigan.

In attendance, Alexi and Jen Chapin-Smith were one of the 300 LBGT couples to get legally married March 22. They held hands and danced near the photo booth for much of the evening. Alexi and Jen are regular volunteers at the Jim Toy Community Center and wanted to spend their Friday evening honoring Jim Toy and his achievements.

"It's good to see Dingell here and it's good for the community," Jen said. "Dingell has voted against anti-discrimination laws and has, in the past, worked against the Bush Administration."

"Yeah and it's great to see so many community members here, especially the County Commissioner, Andy Labarre," Alexi agreed.

"I had a lot of fun. Jim's tiara is adorable," Jen Chapin-Smith laughed.

Felicia Brabec heard about the event through her friend Jason Morgan and was there with her two children, Alex and Viviann. Felicia and her family regularly come out to support the JTCC, and she was very excited to get the chance to celebrate Toy's birthday with the community.

"Every opportunity we have to come out and support Jim, we'll take it. Especially when I can bring the family to celebrate equal rights," Brabec said passing a napkin to her kids as they chowed down on chocolate cupcakes. "The kids are excited. We like to promote that everyone can love who they want to love."

Even though Jim Toy turns 84 on Tuesday April 29, he and the Community Center still have a lot in store for 2014. They are currently planning upcoming events such as the Pride Picnic in May and Outfest in October.

Jim Toy Day

Last year, for the first event marking Jim Toy's birthday, Ann Arbor city council honored him with a Mayor's proclamation declaring April 29 Jim Toy Day. At the Ann Arbor gathering, Toy shared the following remarks which took place shortly after the bombing at the Boston Marathon:

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.

For more information on the Jim Toy Community Center and to see upcoming LGBT events in Ypsilanti go to http://www.jimtoycenter.org.


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