In 1970, Jim was attending a rally protesting the Vietnam war when he stepped in for another member of the Detroit Gay Liberation Movement (DGLM) who had decided not to speak at the last minute. Jim described himself as an openly gay man in his speech. In so doing, as this PBS overview of his life reports, Jim became the first person in Michigan to come out publicly as gay. A co-founder of the DGLM as well as the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front, Jim went on to varied work as a “therapist, counselor, trainer, facilitator, educator, and advocate,” as he wrote in this profile for the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network. When the University of Michigan opened the first university-based LGBTQ center in the U.S. (now called the Spectrum Center), Jim was one of its two coordinators and served in that role from 1971-1994. As Jim says in this video created by the center in 2012, “I’m a Democrat, I’m an Episcopalian, I’m a conscientious objector… I was assigned to what we call the male gender. I identify with that assignment. As it turned out, I happened to be gay.” Elsewhere he elaborated, “My ‘identity’ is a tapestry of many threads — race and ethnicity, color, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability/disability, appearance, age, religious belief, political belief. If one of the threads is plucked, the whole fabric is bound to move.”
Early in TransEpiscopal’s advocacy efforts in the Episcopal Church several of us met Jim at the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim. He immediately embraced us, shared stories, joined in our strategy sessions, and helped us offer a collectively led “Trans 101” for the volunteers gathered to advocate LGBTIQ+ people at that convention. In subsequent weeks Jim joined our email listserve and shared more stories and ideas over the years, always with a characteristically provocative joy.
The Rev. Michelle Hansen, a member of TransEpiscopal’s Steering Committee, commented, “Jim was completely dedicated to human rights, LGBTQ rights and full trans inclusion in the life of society and the Church. May he Rest in Peace and rise to God’s Glory!” Donna Cartwright, also on TransEpiscopal’s Steering Committee, added: “Jim really stood up for trans people back when that wasn’t very common in the church, including in church LGBT advocacy efforts. He was a true ally in addition to being an inspiring pioneer.”
Indeed, several of us remember Jim advocating for the unusual acronym TBLGQ. As he explained in this 2015 interview, “in the TBLGQI ‘community,’ transgender and bisexual people are at greatest risk of harassment, discrimination, and assault to person and property. Some lesbians and gay men hold transgender and bisexual people in contempt, so placing ‘T’ last in the order of reference results in transgender people being devalued and disregarded. It took the decade of the 70's to convince many groups to say ‘LG’ rather than using the sexist order ‘GL.’”
The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge, also a member of TransEpiscopal’s steering committee, recalled how Jim connected the gendered oppression of trans and cisgender LGBQ people in intersectional ways. “I remember Jim sharing how gender norms – what he called ‘the rules of gender’ – had been imposed upon him over the years in particular ways as a Chinese American, gay, cisgender man. He had such a gift for challenging people in ways that could open people’s eyes and draw them together in the process.”
Looking back through Jim’s emailed contributions to TransEpiscopal conversations, several of us noted that his main priority, as far back as 2009, was the need for formation and training to equip trans and nonbinary people and families at all levels of the church’s life. As we head toward this July’s pandemic-compressed 2022 General Convention, we can’t help but think how strongly he would push for the passage of resolution D030 “Develop Resources and Training for Welcoming and Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Persons and Families.” We are certain that he would consider this effort both long overdue and essential to pass now as trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit young people are rendered increasingly vulnerable by waves of anti-trans legislation.
In this moment of tremendous sorrow and anger in the wake of the white supremacist massacre in Buffalo, the targeting of a Taiwanese congregation in Laguna Woods, and this week’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, we give deep thanks for Jim’s fiery, compassionate, wise presence.
As Jim has said: “We’re all in this together… So let’s keep working for liberty, for justice, and for peace. And while we do that I have one injunction: keep misbehaving!”
We will, with God’s help.