by Jessica Carreras
In 2007, Triangle Foundation Executive Director Jeff Montgomery stepped down and out of the spotlight after 16 years of spearheading the fight for LGBT equality in Michigan.
On June 25 at the annual Pride Banquet and Awards Ceremony, he’ll step back in when he accepts a Lifetime Achievement Award for his years of service to LGBT causes. The event, this year with a vampire theme, will be held at the Ukranian Cultural Center in Warren.
Montgomery was nominated among four other prominent members of Michigan’s gay community, including artist and Affirmations gallery curator Charles Alexander, Between The Lines co-publisher and Editor in Chief Susan Horowitz, activist and National Black Justice Coalition board member Michelle Brown and the late Dr. Kathryn Wright, who founded the Horizons Project.
His win, he says, came as a shock – mainly because he’s not done with his work as an activist. “I hope to be doing a lot more things, and I was surprised because it came after being out of the picture,” Montgomery says. “I’m not that old, and I still think I’m going to do some things, but what the hell? We have many lifetimes.”
For Montgomery, 57, it was following what has been a much-needed rest.
“There was a while where I was really kind of relieved to sit back and not keep abreast of things going on in the gay community,” he says of his retirement from Triangle, now merged with Michigan Equality and renamed Equality Michigan. “It was kind of like recharging, and for about a year, I just kind of checked out of everything.”
With good reason.
Montgomery, a lifelong Detroiter who describes himself as “committed to the Cass Corridor,” led a years-long battle in the local and national LGBT equality scene through his work with both Triangle and several other organizations, including the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation and the ACLU of Michigan.
His image was high-profile, however his passion for beginning work on LGBT issues was extremely personal. In 1984, an anti-gay murder left Montgomery’s partner dead, spurring his life-long fervor for preventing, prosecuting and helping victims of LGBT violence.
As such, that became much of the focus of both Triangle and Montgomery’s work, including establishing his organization as the first in the state to record and report LGBT hate crimes. It was an effort that began in 1992 and still stands as one of the purposes of Equality Michigan today.
But things are much different, even since Montgomery effectively disappeared from the gay scene only three years ago.
Michigan Equality and the Triangle Foundation have merged. The organizational name that Montgomery built is gone, as is the federal Republican political leadership he dealt with for the latter half of his career. And the addition of LGBT people to federal hate crimes law is finally a reality.
For Montgomery, these developments have meant little action on his part, but much reflecting.
When it comes to the merger, Montgomery says he wasn’t shocked – but he also wasn’t happy about the name change. “I was surprised that they’d go to the extent of abolishing the organization’s name. I think that was very short-sighted and not a smart thing to do,” he contends. “But when I left, I left, and I made it clear that my point was to let other people take this organization where they thought it should go.”
As for the federal hate crimes law revision, though it was something Montgomery fought for during much of his career, it didn’t please him as much as it might have when he was a younger activist, fueled purely by passion and anger.
“The passage of the hate crimes law is more symbolic than anything. And the only symbol to me is that we’re in this law – we’re mentioned, we’re identified. That’s a big deal,” he admits. “But the reality is that people are still getting beaten up all the time, people are still getting fired from their jobs, people are still being harassed by the police, and they need a voice and assistance. That’s what needs to continue.”
Beyond LGBT violence work, says Montgomery, the fight for equality in all arenas must go on. It’s something he believes will come with gradual change that makes each new generation more tolerant and accepting than the last.
“The more we’re on a totally equal playing field … people are going to grow up in a world where LGBT equality is an assumed thing,” he insists. “As long as we’re still on the outskirts of all these institutions, it continues this atmosphere in the country and the state that there must be something wrong with ‘those people’ and it’s OK to abuse them.”
Total equality, adds Montgomery, is going to take strong leadership from an organization with the power to engage activists and steer legislative and social battles. And though he’s not at the helm of such a group anymore, he hopes only that the work will continue long after he’s done being a part of it.
Or, as he puts it: “In a relay race, if you’re handing off the baton to somebody, your vision is that that person’s going to finish the race and you’re going to win. But that’s where the analogy falls down, because there’s not an end point. Even when I was in the middle of the whole thing, the sort of trite line was that, ‘I can’t wait for the day when we won’t be needed anymore.’ That ain’t gonna happen. This is a relay race that has no finish line.”
Pride Banquet and Awards Ceremony
7 p.m. June 25
Ukranian Cultural Center, 26601 Ryan Road, Warren