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LGBTQ rights activist Nikki Joly is 2018 Citizen of the Year

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JACKSON, MI - He has been on his own since his adopted parents, wanting the girl he wasn't, ousted him at 15.

He has been sexually assaulted. He has been called names, subjected to sometimes insulting gender questions and blatantly refused service in bars or restaurants.

And, stubborn and undeterred, he donned a rainbow cape. He assumed the face of a re-energized - and long-failing - movement to pass an ordinance in Jackson protecting people against discrimination because they are gay, because they are transgender, because they aren't as some say they should be.

It drew unprecedented crowds to City Council meetings and passed, despite some fervent opposition, so Nikki Joly grabbed hold of the momentum and went further. He put together the first Jackson Pride Parade and Festival, complete with a RuPaul impersonator in a leopard jumpsuit on Michigan Avenue.

Five days later, Joly's house on Pringle Avenue, shared by his partner Chris Moore, burned in a fire determined to be arson.

"He knows that he is a target. And that is a hard way to live," his friend Kim Cwynar said. "And yet, he perseveres, every single day. Stepping up to the plate, standing up for others, speaking up for others."

For that tenacity and strength, his part in the historic legislation and his continued community volunteerism, Joly, 53, of Jackson has been named the 2018 Citizen of the Year.

"There is no space for hate and ultimately, love will win," Joly said. "I believe that, 99 percent of the time."

Joly directs the Jackson Pride Center, opened this year after people said it wasn't possible, in the St. John United Church of Christ, 801 S. Mechanic St. Unpaid, he takes phone calls any time of the day or night from people in trouble or in need of a listener, from struggling teens without places to stay, from a parent worried about a gay son or daughter. "Just love them," he advises.

A nurse, he volunteers, too, as a member of the local chapter of the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team, called to house fires and other incidents, and has been mobilized to respond to hurricanes, floods or other problems in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere.

"It's impossible to feel bad when you are doing something for someone else" he says

In response to a challenge levied during discussions of the nondiscrimination ordinance, he attends every City Council meeting - after the usual Tuesday "cocktails and council," open to anyone, typically at The Chase Sports Bar.

He knocked on many doors campaigning for his candidates, is a regular protester outside the offices of U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, and urges others to take part in democracy. "We need to let them know we are watching," he said.

Somewhat rebellious and willing to break rules, he is also warm and big-hearted. "Like the opposite of the Grinch," Cwynar said.

He is a person of more action than words

'Whatever he thinks is right'

At the Jackson Interfaith Shelter on a recent Friday night, delivering gifts and goodies on behalf of the Pride Center, Joly made a special trip to Meijer when he realized a mix-up left one small girl without a present. 

Joly spent the two earlier days working to deck the downtown train depot since he learned the usual decorator, a dedicated station enthusiast, was struggling with health issues.

The next day, he delivered more presents, some to a disabled transgender woman without family in Jackson. "It made my Christmas," said Diane Schmidt, 50.

Such examples are easy to find. Joly and Moore even volunteered last year at Queen of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church. This year, they opened their home on Christmas. "You don't need to be alone," Joly wrote on Facebook.

"Nikki just tries to do whatever (he) thinks is right for anybody and everybody," said friend Don Tassie, a former school administrator who enjoys Joly's support in his "Be more kind" movement.

Sitting at his new home shortly before Christmas, Joly was wearing one of Tassie's yellow shirts. The phrase was written in black on the side of the oversized button-down, hanging over loose-fitting jeans.

Never 'pink and sweet'

Joly, born female, has always been activist-minded even if it was not always openly.

In high school, when he was told he had to wear a skirt to graduation, he rolled up his pant legs so they were invisible beneath his gown. In college, he successfully contended he should be able to wear the men's nursing uniforms. "And I almost got kicked out."

He was born in Detroit and grew up in Clare, a small town north of Mount Pleasant. His mother was not able to take care of him. He bounced in and out of foster care homes until he was adopted by a couple, a substitute teacher and a shoe company manager. They were Jehovah's Witnesses, who "reject all sexual misconduct, including homosexuality," states the faith's website.

They wanted a "girly" little girl, Moore explained. "And that's not what they got."

Joly prefers a masculine pronoun and is gender nonconforming, meaning his physical and behavioral characteristics do not correspond with those typically associated with his sex. He has always despised dresses and being "pink and sweet."

"In the church, we were told about the evil homosexuals and there was no other discussion," Joly said.

Read more: http://www.mlive.com/news/jackson/index.ssf/2017/12/lgbt_rights_activist_nikki_jol.html

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