DETROIT – He helped build one of the largest and most active gay rights organizations in the state – if not the country – and now, he is stepping down. Jeff Montgomery announced last week that is resigning as executive director of the Triangle Foundation.
“I am the proud parent of something that has grown beyond my wildest dreams and expectations,” Montgomery said in a statement he e-mailed to Triangle’s members. “But, like the parent of any child that has attained sufficient maturity and stability to thrive on their own, it is now time for me to take some time for myself to evaluate the next direction of my own life and work.”
If Triangle is truly Montgomery’s child, then it was birthed out of tragedy. It was in 1984, when Montgomery’s partner Michael was gunned down outside of the Gas Station nightclub. Informed that the Detroit Police Department viewed the shooting as “just another gay killing” and that it would not be investigated, Montgomery went into action.
He searched for a way to right this horrific wrong into and avenge his lover’s death. Eventually, Montgomery parlayed his successful career in public relations into becoming the mouthpiece for a new organization named the Triangle Foundation in 1991. It wasn’t easy: Gay rights were not exactly a fundraising cause of choice in the conservative Midwest.
“From the days when I ran this organization and lived on my savings, we have mushroomed into a million-dollar organization,” Montgomery said.
Indeed, much of the agency’s growth through the years can be attributed to the executive director’s tenacity.
“It has been the passion of Jeff Montgomery that motivates his board, staff and the community to fight to do the right thing,” said Leslie Thompson, executive director of Affirmations in Ferndale. “His courage also stands unrivaled. The Triangle Foundation grew out of a horribly personal loss for Jeff, and he put his grief to action and made a difference in the LGBT community.
“Through all the growth that Triangle has experienced, it has been his passion and courage that has driven it all the way.”
En route, Montgomery has been recognized for his efforts by the Detroit City Council, Detroit Human Rights Commission, the Michigan Legislature and Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, who called him a “hero and living legend.” He also developed a national reputation and has appeared repeatedly on Court TV and even CNN, along with providing analysis for The New York Times and USA Today.
Though a tireless worker, there is a tender side to the leader, as well. And if anyone has been influenced by his efforts, it’s his own staff.
“I have said many times that my father taught me how to be a man, and Jeff taught me how to be a gay man,” said Sean Kosofsky, who started at Triangle in 1997 and worked his way up to director of policy. “Jeff is a calming force and a force of reason. I have learned from him the value of patience, wisdom – and that e-mail cannot replace face-to-face work in this movement.”
As Montgomery steps down from his role at the helm of Triangle, he has made it clear that he is not leaving the agency outright. He will transition into the role of senior strategist as the search for his replacement begins.
“Don’t get the impression that I am walking away, either, from this ‘child’ of mine – of ours – or from this movement that has been my life for so long,” Montgomery said in his mass e-mail. “Rather, I will actually be able to be of more use to Triangle than ever as an advisor to a new executive director. We are going to undertake the process of finding and hiring my replacement in such a way as to ensure not only that person’s success, but the smoothest possible transition for Triangle during this phase of expansive growth.
“In many ways, I am a parent, and this organization I helped found has grown up beyond my wildest expectations,” Montgomery continued. “It’s time I made room for new leadership and new ideas to help Triangle grow into the next phase of its work and development.”
As he prepares to leave, there’s no denying Montgomery’s child is continuing to grow.
“Thanks to Jeff’s courage in turning his personal tragedy 16 years ago into positive action, today, Michigan has a large, thriving organization dedicated to both serving victims of anti-LGBT hatred and discrimination – and to achieving policy victories for our entire LGBT community,” said Roland Smith, chair of Triangle’s board of trustees. “We have grown to 10 employees, two offices and a million-dollar budget. None of this growth would have been possible without Jeff’s dedication.”
And after 16 years, many may agree that Montgomery is entitled to dedicate a little time to find himself and discover who he is once again, outside of being the Triangle Foundation – with which his name has been synonymous for so long.
“I’ll be free to take the first real breather I’ve had in 16 years,” he said. “It’s yet another reason why setting up this kind of a process is a good thing. If I’d have just given two weeks’ notice and left, that would have been an immediate crisis for me. With this process in place, it gives me a good bit time to think about what’s next for me over the next six months or a year.
“It’s a very exciting and dynamic thing that we’ve started, and I can’t wait to watch it all unfold.”