Michigan gay rights activist Jeffrey Montgomery dies
Jeffrey Montgomery, founder of the Triangle Foundation and one of the most recognized voices for LGBT rights in Michigan, never set out to be a gay rights leader, his brother said.
But the direction of his life changed after his boyfriend, Michael, was murdered outside a gay bar in 1984. Police considered it “just another gay crime” and refused to investigate it as a hate crime, said John Montgomery.
“Jeff had never thought about being political,” John Montgomery said. “He became real active ... He changed a lot of lives for the good.”
Mr. Jeffrey Montgomery, a Detroit resident, died Monday, July 18, 2016, from a heart attack, his family said. He was 63.
With two friends, Henry D. Messer and John Monahan, Mr. Montgomery founded the Triangle Foundation in 1991 as an anti-violence group. He was the group’s executive director until 2007. The group would merge in 2010 with Lansing-based Michigan Equality to form the statewide Equality Michigan group.
Mr. Montgomery was born May 9, 1953, in Detroit and grew up in Grosse Pointe, according to his family. After graduating from Grosse Pointe Public Schools in 1971, he attended Michigan State University. He was a public relations executive.
“He was somebody I could talk to about any subject, about anything,” John Montgomery said. “He knew what he was talking about it. He was right there. He was a brilliant guy.”
Mr. Montgomery became a nationally recognized figure through numerous appearances on television and radio and in newspapers on the subject of LGBT advocacy. He was also a presenter at White House and Senate conferences.
During Mr. Montgomery’s tenure, the Triangle Foundation became the most recognized voice for LGBT residents in Michigan and their fight for equality, said Agustin Arbulu, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, in a statement Tuesday.
“Jeffrey, who was also a member of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s Bias Crime Task Force, was stalwart and steady in his efforts, never afraid to be ‘out’ in front and never wavering from what was right,” Arbulu said. “His passing is a great loss for all Michiganders.”
In 1999, Mr. Montgomery delivered the inaugural Matthew Shepard Memorial Lecture titled “America ...You Kill Me” Brown University. Shepard, 21, was a gay University of Wyoming student beaten and left to die in 1998. The speech, dedicated to Shepard, holds significance for the gay community, John Montgomery said.
Among his recognitions, Mr. Montgomery received three Spirit of Detroit awards and was commended by the Michigan Legislature. In 2002, The Detroit News named Mr. Montgomery a Michiganian of the Year.
In 2003, Gov. Jennifer Granholm honored Mr. Montgomery with a special tribute for “being among the most visible and accomplished advocates for safety and equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Michigan history.”
“The world has lost one of its brightest stars,” said Sean Kosofsky, executive director of the Tyler Clementi Foundation and former policy director for the Triangle Foundation.
“Not just queers. Not just die hard Detroiters. The world. ... 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,” Kosofsky said.
Memorial services for Mr. Montgomery are pending. Donations may be made to support a documentary about Montgomery’s life, “America You Kill Me,” at www.jeffreymontgomery.org.
In addition to his brother, Mr. Montgomery is survived by another brother, James; and nieces Lauren and Shannon.