DETROIT – Jon Stryker is a quiet man – but a quiet man of action. And his actions were honored Thursday night at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference when the group presented him with the first ever Creating Change Award.
“I think I owe everyone an apology for being so late,” the 47-year-old architect said. “I was so late coming out and joining this movement. I was 36, and I guess I am trying to make up for lost time.”
Stryker, who founded and funded the Arcus Foundation in Kalamazoo, has provided over $40 million in grants to LGBT groups and $36 million to protecting the great apes. He has also spent thousands of dollars to fund campaigns to unseat anti-gay incumbents in Michigan.
“Our movement is perceived as a white and western movement. I believe we need to build a movement that is diverse and reflects who we are. We have re-written our mission statement; our goal is for everyone to be aware of that intersection,” he told 2,100 LGBT activists from around the country and the world, gathered for the NGLTF Creating Change Conference. “Discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and gender identity must be overcome and people must be able to express themselves as who they are.
“This movement is about being able to express ourselves,” he said.
Stryker, who inherited a part of the Stryker family fortune, is listed as the 428th richest man in the world by Forbes Magazine. He has an estimated net worth of $1.8 billion, most from the Styker Corporation, which was founded by his grandfather Homer Stryker, who invented the mobile hospital bed. The company went on to invent surgical equipment and replacement joints.
Stryker shared his story of growing up in Kalamazoo as a child of affluent parents. He said he attended an all-white public elementary school, and then went to “the toughest junior high school.” He said the school was mostly attended by black students, and he began attending at the height of the civil rights movement.
“I realize that the civil rights movement was so important to me because I was already aware that I was gay. My parents told me God made me and Jesus loved me. Yet, I was this 12 year old boy with this part of me I was told was wrong,” he said. “It is not the same as being born with brown, yellow or black skin, but I shared the anger in my very core.”
“The reason I wanted to tell everyone this is that I hope everyone will think about how race and sexual orientation rights work and (how) we need to integrate them. We need to build a culture that makes everyone feel safe in coming out. There is a huge amount of work to do. We must work together to make people feel safe to come out as prideful gay people,” he said.
As part of the award, Stryker was given a monetary award of $5,000. He donated it the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park. The group works with lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender homeless youth.