DETROIT – It was his last official night on the job and the evening really was all about him. Jeff Montgomery, who announced his resignation as executive director last week, was lauded at the annual Triangle Foundation State Dinner Saturday night for his passion and drive.
About 300 people attended the event. At the dinner, the agency’s Catalyst Awards were presented. Awards were given to Robert Van Kirk, State Rep. Lorence Wenke (R – Kalamazoo), Pride At Work and the YWCA Out & Affirmation Center of Berrien County.
Longtime activist Jim Toy also took home the first Heather MacAllister Award, named for the former Triangle field organizer who died in February following a lengthy battle with ovarian cancer.
“We remember that eternity is in this hour,” Toy said in accepting the award. “When I hear the word icon, I said that is not me, until I learned that an icon is something you click your mouse on. That I can live with.”
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the Amercians United for Separation of Church and State, delivered the evening’s keynote address.
“There really is a whole anti-lgbt hate industry in this country,” Lynn told the crowd. “It’s a campaign of marginalization. It’s a campaign of fear mongering. It’s a campaign to make you invisible.
“[In the United States] this effort is primarily generated by the religious right,” Lynn continued. “But it is enabled by the deafening silence of too many in the religious center and even the religious left.”
But even Lynn’s powerful words could not overshadow the true star of the evening. Following Lynn’s remarks, the crowd was treated to a montage of Montgomery. They saw images of the leader with Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D – Mass.), Judy Shepard and others while Cyndi Lauper’s “True Color” played.
When Montgomery finally took the stage, he was received with a lengthy standing ovation and cheers from the crowd.
“First of all, this is not my valedictory,” Montgomery said. “I am stepping away from my duties as executive director, but not from Triangle or this vibrant community … I can say unequivocally that the hard-right radicals and the anti-gay industry have not seen the last of Jeffrey Montgomery.”
Montgomery also announced that Kate Runyon would be stepping in as interim executive director while a search for his permanent replacement got underway.
“Kate is a perfect choice for this position,” said Montgomery in a statement sent to the media on Monday. “She is creative, watchful and knows Triangle intimately. With her as interim executive director, we all can be assured that the process forward is being well-guided.”
Runyon previously worked as executive director of the Episcopal Church’s Oasis Ministries, an LGBT outreach program, and co-director of Camp Anytown, a diversity program for young people. She has worked with the Greater Detroit Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion as a diversity/change consultant, as the administrative assistant for American Arab and Jewish Friends and as the assistant for that organization’s Different People, Common Ground dialogue program. After graduating from Wittenberg College Kate served the Peace Corps in Gambia, Africa.
“The Triangle Foundation is filled with passionate and dedicated people striving for lgbt justice, safety and equality,” Runyon said. “I am deeply humbled to serve as the interim executive director while this extraordinary group of people face the challenges and opportunities of the coming year.”
Though he will stay on with Triangle as a senior strategist, at least for the near future, it felt very much like Montgomery was saying goodbye at the dinner, and members of the crowd spoke with conviction of his myriad of accomplishments since co-founding Triangle 16 years ago.
“I’ve known Jeff since he first co-founded Triangle,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who shared a table with Montgomery at the dinner. “To see Triangle grow to two offices is a tribute to his vision and hard work.”
Rachel Crandall, who will celebrate 10 years as executive director of Trangender Michigan next month, said there is a softer side to Montgomery that not everyone gets the chance to see.
“A lot of people don’t know him as an individual and a person who is sweet,” Crandall said. “He has always believed in me and he helped me to believe in myself.”
Rev. Mark Bidwell, of Metropolitan Community Church Detroit, said that Montgomery gave his all to building Triangle. “Jeff has served this community with all his heart and mind.”