Montgomery Remembered as a ‘Pioneer’ at Memorial Service

Jason A. Michael
By | 2016-09-22T09:00:00-04:00 September 22nd, 2016|Michigan, News|

Jeffrey Montgomery’s older brother James led the service on Saturday. BTL photo: Jason A. Michael

DETROIT – He was not only an activist and advocate for LGBT rights, he was a larger-than-life personality and a hero to many. About 150 people came out to the Wayne State University Community Arts Auditorium Saturday to remember Triangle Foundation co-founder Jeffrey Montgomery for his tireless work and wonderful wit.
“My Uncle Jeff was the best,” said Lauren Montgomery. “He just was. He was charming and eloquent and funny and intelligent and wise and passionate…he was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. He could just as easily talk about Shakespeare as he could talk about drag queens. And he would probably tell you that those two subjects weren’t that far apart.”
Talking is what Montgomery did best, according to Sue Hyde, the director of the annual Creating Change conference produced by the National LGBTQ Task Force.
“What I loved most about Jeff was his career as a professional talker,” Hyde said. “Jeff could talk a Scotsman out of penny. He could talk a dog out of a meat truck. And then both the Scotsman and dog would attest that they had cheerfully given up the penny and the meat.
“He’ll be remembered always for his tenacious, persistent, determined talking, also known as advocacy,” Hyde continued. “But [he’ll be remembered for] not just his perseverance but also his great gift for speaking truth to power – for never giving an inch to bad excuses for non-action. Jeff dogged the district attorneys, the police, the media and elected officials so that they would take seriously the plague of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. He was fearless and relentless in his dedication to ending bias violence against us.”
Montgomery’s lengthy list of accomplishments was constantly put on full display throughout the service, from his co-founding of the Triangle Foundation to his work with the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation. One of his most noticeable accomplishments, Hyde said, was becoming an expert on the use of the so-called “homosexual panic” defense that was once commonly used in the trials of men who killed gay men.
“Through the Jonathan Schmitz murder trial for the killing of Scott Amedure – the Jenny Jones Show murder case – to the trial of the killers of Matthew Shepard, Jeff Montgomery took the stand in the court of public opinion to disarm and neutralize the homo panic defense over and over to anyone who would listen,” said Hyde. “Jeff said it is not homosexual panic that drives the murder of gay men it is homophobia and homo hate that motivates our killings.”
For Montgomery, his activism in the LGBT community began following the 1984 shooting death of his lover Michael outside a gay bar in Detroit. Montgomery was talking publicly about LGBT rights and issues in metro Detroit when few others were.
“He was the lone voice for our community for a long time, at least from my vantage point,” said activist Kofi Adoma. “Back in those days that took courage. He took his work seriously and he showed me just how to steer my passion for social justice into something that could change people’s lives. He taught me not to be afraid of who I was and to stand up. He taught me not to allow the heterocentric system to make our community invisible.
“It has been an honor to know him,” Adoma continued. “In my eyes he was a pioneer who had some wonderfully powerful resilience going on. He just kept on going.”
But behind the activism was a man fiercely devoted to his family, said older brother James Montgomery.
“During the toughest period of my life, during a personal crisis…he was there for me every day. He took every phone call. He gave me sage advice. He made me understand that the sorrow and pain I was going through could be overcome. He made me realize that if I could only live in the present I could actually create my own future.”
Niece Shannon Montgomery Wilkinson said that growing up her uncle was the star of the family.
“Jeff had the kind of presence that took up an entire room,” Montgomery Wilkinson said. “He was always the center of attention with his sharp wit, deep laugh and brilliant smile. As his health started to get the best of him it was hard to see this larger than life man slowed down by the realities of humanity.”
Adriel Thornton, who Montgomery personally convinced to join the Triangle board, said his mentor’s influence will live on.
“Myself and everyone behind me owes Jeff Montgomery an immeasurable amount of gratitude for being that guy who stood and took those barrels for us and took those gunshots for us,” Thornton said. “He took that hate and he literally was on the cross for us. I’ll never forget him and I’ll be forever grateful.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.