Jim Toy was born in New York City on April 29, 1930 to a Chinese father whose birthplace was Portland, Oregon, and a Scotch-Irish mother who was born in Japan. He graduated from Denison University in Granville, Ohio in 1951 (B.A. in French and music), then accepted a position teaching English in France. He lived near Bordeaux and in Corsica until 1953 when he moved to New York where he worked in a hospital blood bank to fulfill a conscientious-objector requirement. In 1957, he moved to Detroit where he became organist-choirmaster at St. Joseph's Episcopal Church. Toy also married at this time and enrolled in the musicology program at the University of Michigan.
According to articles written about Toy in which he discusses his background, the 1960s was the period in which he struggled with concerns about his sexuality. St. Joseph's, which then had a reputation as a "radical" church, supportive of progressive social programs and causes, provided Toy with the nurturing environment that he needed as he decided in 1970 not only to lead a more open lifestyle but also to work to change attitudes and perceptions about homosexuality. In 1970, Toy helped to found and served as secretary of both the Detroit Gay Liberation Movement (later known as the Detroit Gay Liberation Front) and the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front, organizations established to dramatize and seek remedy for the discrimination and harassment that gays and lesbians daily confronted. In April of 1970, Toy made his first public pronouncement as an "open" gay man at an anti-war rally in Detroit. According to Toy, he was thus the first person in Michigan to "come out of the closet" publicly.
Following a statewide gay conference held at the University of Michigan in the summer of 1970, Toy began urging the creation of a program to address the needs of the university's gay male and lesbian students. Using the model which the university had established of creating advocacy units for black students and women students, Toy and other students proposed that the U-M should create a comparable unit to address the concerns of gay male and lesbian students. In 1971, the university under its Office of Special Services and Programs created a "Human Sexuality Office" with two quarter-time employees (one for lesbian and one for gay male students). Jim Toy became the university's first and (at this writing) only gay male advocate. Because so much of Toy's career was centered on this unit, it is important here to digress with further information about that program and its activities.
The Lesbian-Gay Male-Bisexual Programs Office (hereafter LGBPO) was created in 1971 as the "Human Sexuality Office" within the Office of Special Services and Programs of the University of Michigan. Heading the office initially were two individuals, a lesbian advocate and a gay male advocate, each of them to be temporary and part-time. In 1972, the advocate positions were upgraded to permanent and professional level, but they were still only funded at one-quarter time. In 1977, the advocates became funded at one-half time largely through the efforts of concerned university and community members. In 1980, the office was taken out of the Office of Special Services and Programs and brought under the supervision of the Director of Counseling Services. At this same time, the term "advocate" was dropped and in its place the position of "program coordinator" established. In 1987, the co-coordinator positions were made full-time. In 1994, there was another bureaucratic restructuring. The Office ceased having two individuals in charge (one for lesbians and one for gay males); rather a single director now headed the program. The office was renamed the Lesbian Gay Male Bisexual Programs Officeand was administratively located within the office of the Associate Dean of Students for Multiculturalism in the Office of Student Affairs. The office is now known as the Spectrum Center.
As the first such university office established in the United States, the Human Sexuality Office had no models to emulate. The diverse program created by the two advocates was intended to meet specific needs and concerns. From the beginning education, peer advising and counseling, gay rights advocacy, and community organization were the primary concerns of the Human Sexuality Office. The objectives of the office, as stated by Toy in his first annual report, were "to help gay people solve the problems they experience in a predominately heterosexual society" and "to help educate the University community and the community-at-large about the nature of sexuality and, specifically, homosexuality; about the oppression that people endure; and about the rights that gay people should enjoy."
From the beginning, the advocates sought to educate the university community to dispel myths and stereotypes about gay life. Through classroom presentations, appearances at seminars and conferences both within and outside the university environment, and consciousness-raising sessions to university units that might have dealings with gay students such as the University Health Service, residence hall staffs, and classes that touched on issues of sexuality (in psychology, social work, education, and so forth), the LGBPO sought to promote "an open and supportive environment at the university to help people experience their sexual orientation as a positive aspect of their identity." The popularity and demand for such presentations soon overwhelmed the advocates and they began a program to train volunteers or facilitators who would go around to the various classes. This emphasis of LGBPO was given the name of Educational Outreach Program and was eventually headed beginning in 1982 by paid coordinators. Additionally, LGBPO served as a clearinghouse where gay men and lesbians could go for information about gay life and activities.
The counseling program of the office consisted of peer and professional counseling and peer counselor and group facilitator training. Toy and the lesbian advocate would be available in person and over the telephone to individuals who were struggling with matters related to their sexuality and thus sought counseling, for example, about "coming out" or who might be in personal crisis (perhaps contemplating suicide). The advocates were able to provide short- and long-term professional counseling for individuals, couples, and groups, or if warranted, refer the individual to area specialists. Toy and the lesbian advocates trained group facilitators, already qualified to serve as peer counselors trained by LGBPO, to co-facilitate "coming out" groups for individuals seeking to affirm their sexual orientation to themselves, to other members of the lesbian and gay male communities, and to heterosexual people. For a time, the office became home to a 24-hour "Gay Hotline" operated by members of the Gay Liberation Front and funded privately by the GLF and others. The Hotline served those individuals, sometimes troubled, who needed to talk with someone of a similar sexual orientation or who could be referred to an appropriate organization or individual with specialized professional training.
Gay rights advocacy was obviously an important aim of the office. Toy and the lesbian advocates argued that gay men and lesbians faced both physical and psychological harassment and civil and human rights discrimination as students and staff members and that only organized advocacy would create the needed legal and administrative safeguards to rights insufficiently protected. Beginning in 1972, one of the important aims of the advocates was to work to amend Regental Bylaw 14.06 and so specifically prohibit discrimination within the university community based upon an individual's sexual orientation. Much of the first public demonstration to revise 14.06 was conducted first by the Gay Liberation Front, and then in the 1980s by a student group known as LaGROC (or Lesbian and Gay Rights on Campus). Using sit-ins and other non-violent demonstrations, LaGROC dramatized the importance of revising the bylaw. In 1984, pressure from LaGROC was primarily responsible for President Harold Shapiro issuing a Presidential Policy on non-discrimination. Although sexual orientation was still not included as part of 14.06 (and would not be until September 1993), the presidential statement was a partial triumph for LaGROC, and led to the establishment of the President's Task Force on Sexual Orientation that was intended to oversee the implementation of the Presidential Policy. The lesbian and gay male program coordinators were both members of the task force.
The Human Sexuality Office under Toy's and the lesbian advocates' leadership helped students and other lesbians and gay men to organize groups to meet specific needs. LaGROC was significant for its involvement in political protest in the 1980s taking over somewhat the types of activities performed by the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s. Other organizations created with the support of the LGBPO were Michigan Gay Undergraduates, the Gay Academic Union, the Gay Awareness Women's Kollective (GAWK), and Gay Community Services. As a member of the lesbian-gay male-bisexual community, Toy also helped found Little Lambda, the first local lesbian-gay male youth group.
The university's attitude toward LGBPO has been somewhat ambivalent, reflecting society's attitudes toward the needs and concerns of gay men and lesbians. Under the determined and compassionate leadership of Toy and the various lesbian advocates, the years since 1971 have seen many changes, the most important being the gradual recognition of the level of discrimination and harassment facing lesbians and gay men on campus, and the university's (at times reluctant) willingness to provide protection and to include these individuals as contributing members of the university community.
Important to note here is the variety of work that Toy did apart from his university responsibilities with LGBPO. As mentioned, Toy was a dedicated member of St. Joseph's and a concerned and valued worker within the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. Within his diocese, he has worked long and consistently to make the church more welcoming to the lesbian and gay male community. Beginning in 1971, he served as a member of the diocesan commission on homosexuality; in 1975, he helped establish a Detroit area chapter of Integrity,a gay Episcopal organization; in 1976, he became a member of the diocesan Church and Society Committee; and since 1989, he has been a member of the diocese's Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Men's Concerns.
Toy's activism on behalf of gay rights also extended into the political and public policy arena. A willing participant in any number of organizations, causes, and public demonstrations, Toy urged change on all levels of government. He was on the committee that drafted an anti-discrimination ordinance (perhaps the first such official proclamation in the United States) for the city of Ann Arbor that was adopted in July 1972. That same year he co-authored a Gay Pride Week proclamation subsequently approved by the city council of Ann Arbor. On the state level, Toy served as a member of the Task Force on the Family and Sexuality of the Civil Rights Committee of the Michigan State House of Representatives. Other organizations in which Toy participated included the local chapter of the ACLU, the state board of the Michigan Organization for Human Rights, the Ann Arbor Area Association for Civil Concerns, the Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus of Washtenaw County, and the Huron Valley Chapter of Wellness Network (now the HIV/AIDS Resource Center, or HARC). Toy served as a trainer and support-group facilitator for HARC.
Despite his numerous organizational responsibilities, Toy was also a skilled and gifted teacher who knew the value of education in changing attitudes. In addition to working toward a musicology degree, he earned his Master's degree in clinical social work while also organizing and teaching the course "Gay Issues in Social Work" in the U-M School of Social Work. And as part of his work with the Human Sexuality Office, Toy conducted scores of educational and training sessions both at the university and at other area universities, churches, and social organizations. In 1994, following an administrative reorganization and name change in the Lesbian-Gay Male Programs Office, James Toy resigned and became an Affirmative Action Representative in the university's Affirmative Action Office. In addition, he continued to work as a community counselor and therapist, providing pro bono service to help individuals, couples, and groups address concerns of sexual orientation and of HIV/AIDS.