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Washtenaw United: Pride Month creates opportunity for more conversation and education in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County

Joe Halsch, president of the Jim Toy Community Center.
Jim Toy Community Center
Joe Halsch, president of the Jim Toy Community Center.


Joe Halsch is the President of the Jim Toy Community Center, located in Ann Arbor. His goals are the same as the center’s: Education, Community, and Advocacy, for the LGBTQIA+ Community. Joe hopes that he and the organization will have a huge impact within politics with Alliance and be the strong voice the community needs. Joe believes that by being proactive with Education, the Jim Toy Community Center will continue to carry on the legacy of the man the center was named after.


Jim Toy Community Center

Jim Toy Community Center on Facebook

Jim Toy Community Center on X (Twitter)

Jim Toy Community Center on Instagram

Ann Arbor PRIDE


David Fair: June is National Pride Month. It is an opportunity to promote equity and equality for members of the LGBTQ community and to have more conversation on sexual identity. I'm David Fair, and I'd like to welcome you to this week's edition of Washtenaw United. At the Jim Toy Community Center in Ann Arbor, the mission is to facilitate an inclusive community where people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity are visible and live together in equality, respect and happiness. Certainly, there's been some progress, but the vision is far from fully realized. Our guest today is the president--Joe Halsch serves as president of the Jim Toy Community Center. And thank you so much for taking time for a conversation today. I appreciate it!

Joe Halsch: Thanks for having us, Dave.

David Fair: Well, around here, it is hard to think of Pride Month without thinking of the contributions made by the namesake of the Jim Toy Community Center. I don't think Mr. Toy's contributions in the quest for equality can be overestimated. How do you view the impact?

Joe Halsch: I think Jim's life has been really centered around building community. We actually kind of break it down into three pillars around education, advocacy and community engagement. You know, by trade, Jim was a social worker. Actually, last summer, he had the honor of being appointed to the team of pioneers to the social work industry. So, a really exciting life and accomplishments. You know, in addition to the social work, he's also done work at U of M. He started off what is now known as the Spectrum Center. He's also responsible for helping bring people into the Ann Arbor area along with United HIV. He was also a member of his church and his community. So, Jim's life and reach touched, many, many lives beyond just the LGBTQ community.

David Fair: And it has been instrumental in our communal evolution. How, in your view, has Pride Month evolved over the years?

Joe Halsch: Yeah. Pride. Well, we've been doing Pride since 1995, and for us, it started out as a picnic--community picnic--in October really centered around Coming Out Month. A lot of people ask why our pride is in August. And, really, the big reason is as people started to understand what pride was, as people are becoming more accepting and inclusive and wanting to learn more, pride has grown more and more. And now it's a full-on festival. We decided to move ours from October to August to allow for the other great pride events, without promoting and competition to have people go to Motor City or Ypsi Pride or even Chicago's. And then, we will just extend the pride seeking out a little bit more by having ours in August.

David Fair: Washtenaw United and our Pride Month conversation with Joe Halsch continues on 89 one WEMU. Joe is president of the Jim Toy Community Center. It's interesting. One of the more prevalent conversations these days is about the use of pronouns. In some respects, it's become a political hot potato. I think some believe the gender identification is just all of a sudden important in the LGBTQ plus community. My guess is it's always been important. What's your take?

Joe Halsch: Yeah. It has always been important. Because identity is important to being able to express who you are and how you feel and how you want people to interact with you is a key human need. And pronouns are just another component of that. I think when people encounter people with different pronouns, there might be some hesitation. There might be some feeling of, "Oh, I'm going to mess it up." And you know what? You might, and that's okay. You know, it's really about where people's heart is, how they're trying to engage with that person and really get to know them.

David Fair: And I think you rightly point out that when most people encounter and make a mistake like that, they really do want to learn and respect someone's personal preference on how to be identified. How do you respond to those whose minds can't be changed or even come to a place of acceptance, citing religious beliefs or traditional biology for arguing against nontraditional gender identifications?

Joe Halsch: Yeah. That's a really tough question because, within all of our identities, there are often conflicting opinions or misunderstandings. I think really focusing on what's what's the end goal of this interaction. You know, it's not about trying to change a political landscape. It's not about a hidden movement or the LGBTQ agenda. It's really about people and individuals. And I think the more people can focus on individuals and put faces to these issues or these pronouns, they become more humanized and maybe even find a point of correlation where religious people want to be understood, want to share, want to grow their community. I'm not saying all religious people are against using pronouns. But it's about mutual respect. There's learning to be done for the LGBTQ community as well.

David Fair: Some say that by expanding the manner in which people self-identify, that it may create further separation when the goal is to create full acceptance. Are labels by, in and of themselves, antithetical to the cause?

Joe Halsch: Yeah, yeah. It's something I think about a lot. You know, I think the LGBT community is a really diverse community. Everybody is affected within our community. And so often, internally, we are having conversations to understand and to grow. I think labels can be great. And I think, to your point, labels can also be divisive. For me, labels help kind of understand and put some common language around what people are experiencing as much as one can in a very individualistic kind of way, such as trying to understand someone's pronouns.

David Fair: Once again, this is 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with the president of the Jim Toy Community Center in Ann Arbor. Joe Halsch is our guest on this week's edition of Washtenaw United. Sometimes, I think when we do get to that very personal interaction, one on one, that we have an opportunity to better understand one another. What does the freedom to identify as one's true self do for a person's emotional well-being and sense of belonging? Because I think people really want to give that to one another.

Joe Halsch: Yeah, yeah. I hope that's true. I think when someone's able to stand in their truth, whether it be in school, in the workplace, out in the community, people are able to bring their full selves, bring all of their gifts, and then to be able to share those with others in a community setting. I think, without that, you get more isolation. You get fear. You get division. And again, to your point, mental health becomes an immense conversation in our community--trying to figure out how do we understand ourselves and how do we communicate with others and express our emotions and our identities in ways that other people can hear, which I think is an important part of the communication.

David Fair: We know that violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community is on high, particularly against transgender members of the community. We know that discrimination in housing and employment still exists. Some people are never going to change their minds or their attitudes about this, but there is certainly room for more societal growth. Where, in your estimation, are the next gains going to come from toward that end?

Joe Halsch: Well, that's a great question. You know, it is a very interesting time in American history right now. And I think that there have been certainly physical attacks, legislative attacks, on our community. And I hope that the country really takes power in their voting. I think voting is a really important part in that next milestone when it comes to further progress, whether it be from the housing or health care or the people who are transgender. It's difficult to see where that is going to land. But I know the impact is more than likely going to be in the ballot box.

David Fair: So, with Ann Arbor PRIDE to take place in August, when primaries take place and followed by the November general elections, is that going to be a primary focus of what the Pride event is going to be in Ann Arbor.

Joe Halsch: So, it's not going to be a primary focus. It's certainly going to be a part of it. As a 501c3, we certainly have limitations on parts of advocacy. Som the way that we approach it is we will be hosting a voter registration drive. So, people do need to get involved. We'll have a couple different groups there helping people get signed up. We will have local politicians coming and speaking and showing their support from the city, county, state and federal levels, as well to share their expertise and to connect with other folks. And then, there'll be nonprofits around. We'll have over 100 vendors this year from a variety of different backgrounds and objectives, so a really diverse kind of way of looking about how to get engaged, how to find different people and how to make an impact in the community that's unique to and special to the individual.

David Fair: Well, I look forward to it. And we'll see you in August. I thank you for the time in the conversation, Joe!

Joe Halsch: Appreciate it! Take care!

David Fair: That is Joe Halsch, president of the Jim Toy Community Center in Ann Arbor and our guest on Washtenaw United. This is National Pride Month, and Ann Arbor PRIDE will be held on Saturday, August 3rd. For more information and details, take a minute to visit our website at wemu.org. We have everything you'll need. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. You hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.


According toVery Well Mind and the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes questioning), intersex and asexual. The “plus” represents the limitless sexual orientations and gender identities used by members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The term LGBTQIA+ has been evolving to better represent the diverse community. In the 1990s, lesbian, gay and bisexual activists began using LGB and LGBT.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan strives to promote equity and inclusion for everyone, regardless of their sexual or gender identity. This year, United Way is proud to partner with 2024 Motor City PRIDE, which traces its roots back to June 1972. The first march was held in downtown Detroit to protest the unjust laws and to work for recognition for LGBTQIA+ rights and equality.

To learn more about the diverse identities and experiences of the LGBTQIA+ Community, check out some of the content days from United Way’s previous 21-Day Equity Challenges:

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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