“We decided not to renew our lease at our physical space,” says Joe Halsch. “We had to figure out what it meant for the next chapter of the Jim Toy Community Center.”
After sixteen years in Braun Court, the LGBTQ+ center closed its doors in 2021. It was one of a series of losses lamented in a March Ann Arbor News article.
Halsch understands: the space “was a lifeline for people in the community,” he says. But he says the closing was necessary due to financial strain, a lack of staffing, and the closing of surrounding businesses, especially the Aut Bar.
The center’s namesake, Jim Toy, is widely believed to be the first person in Michigan to publicly come out as gay. After a life advocating for LGBTQ+ people and civil rights more broadly, Toy died on New Year’s Day at the age of ninety-one.
“We wanted to be sure we were responsible, good stewards of Toy’s legacy,” says Halsch. Getting out from under rent and utility bills was their way of “making sure that we could continue on for an indefinite period.”
Since the closing, Halsch says, they’ve operated online as a resource to help people find inclusive services. Ozone House, for example, provides an emergency shelter, safe space, transitional housing, and counseling for LGBTQ+ teens and families.
At September’s Pride celebration in Wheeler Park, the center announced the creation of the Jim Toy Community Foundation, which will make grants to promote education and advocacy. First, though, it’s raising funds for future Pride celebrations and other activities.
Longer-term, the community center hopes to receive a county grant for “LGBTQ community building.” Advanced by former county commissioner (now state rep) Jason Morgan, it will provide $150,000 of funding over two years to “implement strategies to support programming, foster community engagement, and increase awareness of issues faced by Washtenaw’s LGBTQ residents.”
If they’re successful, Halsch says, the grant will allow them to open another physical space and hire staff to operate it.