Inclusion Awards posthumously honor gay rights leader Jeffrey Montgomery

Jeffrey Montgomery is no longer walking among us, but his passion for equality and freedom have shaped the way the LGBT community — indeed, the country — think about queer freedom.

Montgomery, the founder of Detroit’s Triangle Foundation, will receive a posthumous honor at the second annual City Pulse Inclusion Awards Thursday. He died last year at 63. The statewide rights group Equality Michigan was formed out of a merger with the Triangle Foundation in 2010.

Montgomery took a personal tragedy and turned it into a stellar career as one of the leading national voices for sexual freedom and against anti-LGBT violence. In 1984, after he raised millions of dollars to restore and renovate the historic Detroit Orchestra Hall, the trajectory of his life was forever altered. His partner, Michael, was shot outside a Detroit gay bar.

He recounted being told, the day after the funeral, that he should not expect an arrest or even heavy lifting by Detroit police in the efforts to find his lover’s killer. It was, he was told, “just another gay murder.”

Using his fundraising skills and a disarming wit and charm in public speaking, Montgomery launched the Triangle Foundation with John Monahan and Dr. Henry Messer in 1991. The group’s main goal was to track anti-LGBT violence. It commissioned a study of the controversial use of police resources to conduct sting operations targeting men who have sex with men in public spaces. That study revealed the Michigan State Police called such operations “Bag-a-fag.”

His national platform came from an odd murder case in Detroit. Scott Amedure, a Lake Orion gay man, participated in the taping of an episode of the television tabloid talk program “The Jenny Jones Show” on March 6, 1995. On the show, Amedure revealed his crush on Jonathan Schmitz. Once back in Metro Detroit, but before the show aired, Amedure left sexually suggestive notes at Schmitz’s home. Schmitz withdrew cash, purchased a shotgun and showed up at Amedure’s front door. He shot Amedure twice, left the scene and called 911 to confess to the murder. He was convicted of second degree murder in 1996.

Montgomery came to national attention as an outspoken critic of Schmitz’s “gay panic attack” defense, as he did again in 1998 in the brutal beating death of Matthew Shepherd in Wyoming. Cathy Renna, who was with the national media group GLAAD, said Montgomery was instrumental in getting national media to understand the ridiculousness of a gay panic defense, which led, in part, to the judge rejecting it as a defense in the case.

Montgomery graduated from Michigan State University and came of age as the LGBT movement was in its infancy. He participated in the Gay Activist Alliance, which once operated on Michigan Avenue. But his national and statewide accolades also hid a dark side. Montgomery struggled with alcoholism and was a heavy smoker.

“No other local activist for LGBTQ rights and sexual freedom from the past twenty-five years has had the potent impact on our history as Jeffrey Montgomery,” said Tim Retzloff, an adjunct assistant professor at Michigan State University who has extensively studied the LGBTQ rights movement in Michigan. “His unflagging devotion to queer justice and social justice will be a model for generations to come.”