Born in 1948, Jay Toole grew up in an Irish Catholic home in the South Bronx during the 1950’s. At the age of 13, Jay returned home with the classic butch haircut of the day, a flat top. Her father threw her out immediately, with no one and nowhere to turn. For the next 8 years she lived on a park bench in Washington Square Park, a unique viewing perspective for the evolution of the 1960’s in the West Village. Ultimately she did not get off the streets or have an apartment to call her own until November 2000. She spent the five years prior navigating the NYC homeless shelter system. During her time on the streets she was arrested for crimes such as sleeping on a subway bench, sexual deviancy resulting from not wearing 3 articles of women’s clothing and much more. Jay was also beaten and abused by the NYPD regularly; she has visible scars on her leg to this day. She became addicted to drugs and alcohol as the only coping method available. Jay identifies the one reason she made her way out of the shelter system being the assistance of a few supportive queer individuals from the outside.
It’s precisely this kind of hands-on support that led Jay in 2002 to become a Co-Founder and the Shelter Director at Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ), a progressive non-profit org. committed to promoting economic justice in a context of sexual and gender liberation. From 2002-2012 Jay spearheaded movements at QEJ, which resulted in 2 written policy changes at the Dept. of Homeless Services (DHS) and the City of New York. In January of 2006 transgender folks were ensured the right to self determine which side (male/female) of the shelter system to enter. In 2007 a policy was created for homeless queer families to be housed and sheltered together. These policies continue to be honored today. Because of Jay’s work QEJ became the first and only LGBTQ organization to facilitate support groups for queer individuals inside the shelter system. Doors are open in these support groups regardless of gender identity, legal or immigration issues, mental or physical health needs, or substance abuse.
Jay began a new chapter in 2012, moving forward with her long time dream of Jay’s House. Currently she is working alongside her team to create the very first LGBTQ adult shelter in the country. Jay’s House will bring together a resource center, support and services, housing, follow up care, skill shares, mentorships and hold hands as people move through difficult systems, such as health care.