Aug. 2, 1960 – Feb. 11, 2019
Former bar owner and gay rodeo enthusiast James Osmond Brown II, known to many as Diamond Jim, died Feb. 11 from congestive heart failure. He died at his home in Detroit with his rescue dog Diamond by his side. He was 58.
Brown grew up in Highland Park and attended Cass Technical High School. Following high school, Brown moved to California to study architecture at UCLA in 1979. It was in Los Angeles that Brown came out.
Brown returned to Detroit in 1984 and became involved in the city’s leather scene. He won the titles Mr. R&R and Mr. Michigan Leather, which allowed him to compete in the annual International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago. He would go on to work on the production of IML for the next 16 years.
A love of rodeo led Brown to found Michigan International Gay Rodeo Association in 1994. Brown produced five rodeos at the Michigan State Fair Grounds. He was an accomplished bareback bronc buster, bull rider and steer wrestler having won over 20 buckles overall in various national rodeo competitions.
Brown participated in the Gay Games in 1990 and 1994 competing in shot put, discus and flag football. He would go on to return to the Gay Games in 2006 and win a silver medal in the Masters Heavyweight Division.
But of all his many achievements, what Brown will probably best be remembered for is his bar. Brown opened Diamond Jim’s Saloon on the west side of Detroit in 2001.
“He did a lot for the bear community, the leather community, he crossed a lot of genres,” said Tim Zazo, general manager of the Menjo’s Entertainment Complex, who worked for Brown for a time at Diamond Jim’s. “He did line dancing, which was a staple of his for years. The biggest event he did in his bar was called Wall to Wall Fur. It was a huge bear event, a weekend event. I literally modeled my Bear Expo on his Wall to Wall Fur.”
Goddess Lakshimi, Ms. World Leather 2003, met Brown just before she ran for her title.
“We were line dancing at what I did not know what his bar,” she said. “When I made the decision to run for the title of Ms. World Leather, he said the bar would be glad to help sponsor me. The sponsorship was not monetary but advisory. He opened his bar to whatever I desired to do. He even participated in the mock interviews I did to practice answering questions from the leather and gay press.
“He was known for his philanthropic endeavors,” Lakshimi continued. “He sponsored many people in events and titles that gave back to the community.”
After more than a decade, Brown closed the bar in 2010 as a result of landlord issues. He survived a bout with cancer in 2012 and a devastating car accident in 2014, which lead to a withdrawal from the community.
“When he had his battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I would sit with him in his chemo sessions,” Lakshimi said. “We would laugh and talk with others who were battling some form of cancer and he would be cheering others on in their fight.”
Brown was, friends say, looking forward to getting back out there this summer as the Motor City Bears celebrated their 25th anniversary. But it was not to be.
“He always had a large presence, though he had a soft-spoken rich baritone,” Lakshimi said. “The Ancestors have gained a powerful ally and I will always know there is a big gay bear, line dancing-loving, leather angel watching over me and all of his chosen family.”
Brown was also remembered fondly by Musfasi Ali, the founder of ONYX, the leather fraternity for gay, bi and trans men of color.
“My longtime friend and brother Diamond Jim has crossed over to be with the ancestors,” Ali said. “Jim was a longtime and fervent support of ONYX and our mission since our inception. He was a dedicated gay rodeo participant, bar owner, contest producer [Mr. Leather Cowboy] and Detroit leather community member who always had a huge smile and a big hug. … May his spirit always ride on in us.”
Funeral services for Brown were private. A GoFundMe page has been set up to cover the cost of final arrangements. Any additional funds raised will go to create the James O. Brown, II Legacy Fund to benefit Detroit’s LGBT community. The link is gofundme.com/jamesobrownii-legacy-fund.
Editor’s Note: Brett Reynolds contributed to this story