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Detroit LGBTQ community mourns passing of transgender man
by Gretchen Rachel Blickensderfer
2014-12-26

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The body of a 22-year-old Michigan transgender man Jay Ralko who had been missing for thirteen days was discovered on December 23 in Warren, Michigan. A statement released by Equality Michigan the following day noted that police believe the cause of death to be suicide, pending the results of an autopsy.

Ralko's best-friend of five years and college roommate Ashton Niedzwiecki described him to Windy City Times as "the kind of guy who you couldn't help but love as soon as you met him and he loved everyone he met. Even if you fell out of contact with him for a while, he was always thinking about you and was really excited whenever he did hear from you," Niedzwiecki said.

They met at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Allies ( GLBTA ) Student Union at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. "We'd go out and grab dinner," he said."We just clicked right away. After a few months, we got an apartment and a dog together. He was like my baby brother. We told each other everything."

Niedzwiecki added that they transitioned together and so celebrated each step they took. "We were singing a song a few years back and making fun of it and Jay's voice cracked," he said. "We both got really excited and he kept singing it over and over again, just to hear it crack because he was so happy. He had the best sense of humor. People wanted to be around him because he was always laughing and cracking jokes."

Meanwhile, Niedzwiecki said that Ralko was active in the community, volunteering at a Detroit homeless shelter for LGBT youth. He also took part in the founding of FTM Detroit which, according to its Facebook page is "a community-based group made by and for transmasculine identified people in the greater Detroit area" that seeks to "strengthen ties among transmasculine identified people in the area through social gatherings, discussion and support groups, and activism projects."

"Jay never wanted anyone to feel left out," Niedzwiecki recalled. "If there was anyone who did feel [that way] he would always be the one who would reach out to that person and make them feel like he was his world. It was his superpower. He could make anyone feel like they were the most important person in the room.'

A statement from Ralko's family released by Equality Michigan read "If we could have one last word with Jay, we would tell him how proud we are of him. Not many people would be able to get through what he has. He has struggled with so much in the last few years, much of which none of us will ever understand. Our only wish now is that all the pain has gone away and he has found peace. We love you Jay and we will miss you."

In the same release, Victim Advocate for Equality Michigan Leah Taraskiewicz stated "The Equality Michigan team is heartbroken over the loss of Jay, and we will continue to work with the family to support them in any way we can. We don't know if Jay's mental health played a role in this tragedy. However, we do know that, LGBTQ people are at higher risk of facing tough mental health situations. No one should have to go through that alone. We encourage anyone who is struggling with mental illness and depression to seek help and support. We ask that everyone join us in keeping Jay's family and friends in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."

"He was the most loyal and kindest friend that anyone could wish for," Niedzwiecki said. "He was my best friend and my baby brother. I will never stop missing him."

There will be a showing on December 29 at the LJ Griffin Funeral Home located at 8809 Wayne Road in Livonia, Michigan. Ralko's funeral will be held at 7707 Middlebelt Rd Westland, Michigan 48185 on December 30 at 10:30 am.

According to Niedzwiecki, in lieu of flowers people can send donations to the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park, Michigan or Affirmations in Ferndale,Michigan. Niedzwiecki is also organizing a memorial service, date and time to be announced.

For more information about FTM Detroit, please visit: www.facebook.com/FtMDetroit/info .

For Affirmations, please visit: www.goaffirmations.org/ .

For the Ruth Ellis Center, please visit: www.ruthelliscenter.org/ .

Original news at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Trans-individual-missing-from-Warren-Michigan-area-/50028.html .


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