Jeffrey Montgomery, founder of the Triangle Foundation – the predecessor organization to Equality Michigan – has died.
Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, confirmed his passing by phone this morning.
“We will be eternally grateful for the legacy he left and built for us,” White said by phone.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
This is a breaking news story. Read the full obit here.
Before his passing, Montgomery had been working on a feature-length documentary titled “America You Kill Me” showcasing his pioneering work and impact on Detroit’s LGBT community. The film is in its final stages of production and is scheduled to be released this year.
“America You Kill Me” is directed by Daniel Land.
What leaders in the state are saying about Montgomery.
Sean Kosofsky, executive director, Tyler Clementi Foundation, former policy director of Triangle Foundation:
“The world has lost one of its brightest stars. Not just queers. Not just die hard Detroiters. The world. Jeffrey Montgomery lost his lover to an anti-gay homicide. Ignored by police as “just another gay killing” he decided to take matters into his own hands. He helped form the Triangle Foundation, now Michigan Equality. For 16 years he came to work, flipped on the coffee and battled injustice.
Jeff help build a team of bold and, dare I say, radical staff, board and interns. His brilliant tactical and communications skills helped build Triangle Foundation into a nationally respected institution feared by the right wing and admired by LGBT groups nationally. When other organizations left Detroit he stayed, despite the challenges that came with that. When others didn’t want us to work against police misconduct and sting operations, he insisted that our movement started by fighting cops and we still were fighting cops. He was one of the top experts on anti-LGBT homicides in the US. He helped elect Jennifer Granholm, Gary Peters, Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin. He helped end illegal sting operations in Detroit. He won the first lawsuit against a lawmaker for defamation for saying that gays were pedophiles. He created the first gay welcome center at the Superbowl when it came to Detroit. He took on Jerry Falwell, Pope Benedict, Bill Schuette and countless others. And through all this battle, he had the time to raise a generation of activists in Mich. unapologetically passionate about ending violence, demanding full equality and sexual freedom and pushing back on racist, xenophobic and sexist forces that wanted to roll Michigan backward.
His contributions to the world are too many to enumerate. His absence from the professional activism is a gap too huge to explain. I knew the day would come when we would lose Jeff Montgomery. Jeff would absolutely want us to use the occasion of his passing to focus a light on the hate and vitriol coming out of the political right, especially this week in Cleveland. He stood to make the world safer not more divided. We can best honor Jeff by voting, loving and ACTing UP. I love and miss my friend. His fight, our fight, is not over.”
Gregory Varnum, former director of external relations at Equality Michigan, Triangle Foundation:
“Last night – my Gay Father, Jeffrey Montgomery, died. Last night, the LGBT movement, progressive movement, and indeed the world lost a living legend – and I lost a friend I have come to think of as family.
Today, I am full of sadness, joy, confusion, regrets, and warmth. Sadness for the loss of this truly wonderful man. Joy over the countless happy memories he leaves so many of us. Confusion over why anyone that caring and dedicated ever had to suffer this much at all. Regret that I did not reach out to him more. Warmth thinking about all the amazing things he empowered those around him to achieve.
Jeff hired me directly out of college, after being an intern my final semester. He seemed convinced that I had potential and skills I did not even recognize in myself. I started as his assistant, moved on to become a department director, and at his urging, left to take a job as executive director of another org.
I call him my Gay Father because he took me under his wing very early on in my career, and was a constant guiding force for me. He took my calls when I needed advice, encouraged me to take on challenges I wasn’t sure I could handle, and treated me like his son.
I have a lot of fond memories of Jeff. His stories about working in hotels, the parade, and music hall – about his family’s fascinating history in Detroit – about the history of Detroit (he loved Detroit) – or about why a politician was more two-faced than you could have guessed. I also have a lot of lessons from Jeff that I carry with me. Helping people out on the street because you can. Enjoying life in the moment because you don’t know what is coming next. Embracing challenges as learning opportunities.
Jeff was a survivor. I have feared having to write this post more times than I can count. But Jeff always beat the odds and came through. Jeff’s body lost this most recent fight, but the memory he leaves behind indicates that his spirit continues to survive and live on.
There are thousands of additional things I could say about Jeff – stories of his compassion for others – his curiosity in the world around him – his genius mind – but for now, I will leave it at the above and go spend some time to reflect on our friend and all that he did for this world while we was here, and all of the lives he touched. He joins the thousands of angels whose lives he touched directly here on Earth – and while they celebrate his arrival – it is a sad day for those of us left behind.”
Ricci Levy, President and CEO of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation:
“I am heartbroken at Jeff’s death. I know many words will doubtless be written about Jeff, but none can convey the depth of loss – personal loss and loss to our movements – felt at Jeff’s death. Jeff was a brilliant strategist, a remarkable teacher, a powerful leader, and, above all, my friend. For all the ferocity of his refusal to let others suffer harm, Jeff was a gentle soul. He cared deeply for those he served for so long, speaking out for human rights for almost three decades through his advocacy against violence, homelessness, HIV, and the recognition of the diversity of family, sex and sexuality.
Every word spoken for freedom, every statement demanding human rights – the right to love as we wish and be who we are – will forever summon Jeff to our minds and hearts. Our hearts go out to all the members of his family, and that includes the hundreds and thousands of lives made better because Jeff lived and because Jeff cared enough to create the change he wanted to see. ”
Stephanie White, executive director, Equality Michigan:
“We mourn his loss and send love to all of his family, including the vast network of chosen family who have loved him from all across the country and here in Michigan. Jeff leaves a giant legacy that won’t be forgotten. We are eternally grateful for all of the work that he’s done for our community.”
Colette Seguin Beighley, former Triangle Foundation staffer:
“The world has lost a giant. LGBT activist and hero Jeffrey Montgomery has died. Jeff was wicked smart, strategic, funny, and absolutely fearless! After the murder of his lover — which the police called “just another gay killing” when they told Jeff the crime would not be investigated — Jeff dedicated his life to anti-violence and advocacy work.
After attending every day of the Matthew Shepard trial, Jeff delivered the inaugural Matthew Shepard Memorial Lecture at Brown University entitled “America, You Kill Me” which challenged the idea of “gay panic” and the disposability of queer and trans lives.
His impact in my own life was so deeply personal, I can’t even give voice to it at this moment. What an honor it was for me to serve with him at Triangle Foundation! The world owes Jeff a debt of gratitude. Suffice it to say (as I had the opportunity to tell him directly), Jeff was one of my greatest teachers. I loved Jeff and am eternally grateful for the great personal risks he took to make the world safer for those I love.”
Curtis Lipscomb, executive director of LGBT Detroit:
“LGBT Detroit is deeply saddened by the loss of Jeffrey Montgomery, a friend who I passionately refer to as Jeff. Jeff was a monumental force in the advocacy and safety of LGBTQ Detroiters, Michiganders, and Americans as a whole. His work on behalf of those who were affected by violence and profiling improved the quality of life for many LGBTQ people. Jeff will be remembered for his tireless compassion for others, as well as his passion to advance the lives of many. We will remember Jeff through many avenues, including the work that continues to be done by our sister partner, Equality Michigan. Jeff was an inspiration to myself and many others; we lost a large figure in the movement for the equality of LGBTQ people. He will be missed immensely.”
State Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo)
“I met Jeff when I was coming into the LGBT equality movement as a young activist. I was impressed with his passion and dedication. He introduced me to so many folks who I continue to work with and call friends.
Jeff will be missed. The movement lost a champion who helped lay the foundation on which many of our achievements are now built.”
Ingham County Interim Prosecutor Gretchen Whitmer:
“I’m so sorry to hear of Jeff’s passing. He laid the groundwork in so many ways for the LGBTQ advocacy taking place across Michigan still today. He will be missed by many, though his legacy will live on through those he inspired throughout his life.”