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New Exhibit Charts Kansas City’s Role in Promoting LGBT Rights

Event flyer [PDF]

Kansas City's surprisingly pivotal role in helping to launch the modern gay rights movement is the central story of a new exhibit built by faculty, students, and staff at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Titled Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights, the exhibit opens with a reception on Wednesday, April 19, at 4:30 p.m. at UMKC's Miller Nichols Library, 800 E. 51st Street, and will be on view through September 30.

Focusing on Kansas City's role as host of the first national gathering of gay rights activists in 1966, the exhibit also tells the story of Kansas City's first gay rights organization, the Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom. Items on display include self-published magazines documenting local and national struggles for LGBT civil rights, documents related to the Phoenix Society's founding, and photographs and other ephemera related to Kansas City's LGBT community.

The exhibit concludes a multi-year collaborative effort between UMKC faculty, students, staff, and local community partners to promote and preserve Kansas City's LGBT history. Built in part by students in Professor Christopher D. Cantwell's "Public History Theory and Method" class, the exhibit helps highlight a new historic marker commemorating the 1966 meeting. The marker was installed last Fall in Barney Allis Plaza by LGBT-KC, a local community volunteer committee.

In addition to being on display at Miller-Nichols Library, the exhibit will have a traveling companion version that will be installed at museums, libraries, and LGBT centers throughout the Kansas City metro in the coming months. Support for the exhibit's travel comes from a Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area grant, which was authored by Cantwell and Stuart Hinds, Assistant Dean for Special Collections and Archives. Hinds is also one of the founders and current curator of the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, whose rich collections on the region's LGBT history provided the material for the exhibit. In addition, the exhibit was also curated and designed by Kathryn Carpenter, a graduate student in the history department's public history program.

 

Bronze Plaque Commemorates First-Ever National Meeting of Gay & Lesbian Rights Activists

Event pictures [PDF]

In 1966, 39 national LGBT civil rights leaders joined each other to plan strategies and develop collaborations. They met, for the first time ever, at the State Hotel that stood at the time at 12th and Wyandotte streets in Kansas City, Missouri.

That small, two-day conference included major gay and lesbian political figures from both the east and west coasts. There were representatives of the Mattachine Society, including founder and Missouri native Hal Call; the two founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian advocacy group; and founding members of ONE, Inc., out of Los Angeles. This consortium became known as the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations; "homophile" is a term used at the time as we use "LGBT" today.

Immediately after the Kansas City meeting, Drew Shafer (left) and other local organizers formally established the Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom, Kansas City's first gay advocacy organization.

In partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA), LGBT-KC, a community volunteer committee, is unveiling an historical marker across from the hotel site, commemorating both the 50th anniversary of that historic meeting and the founding of the Phoenix Society. GLAMA and LGBT-KC have been working for nearly two years with representatives of City Hall and Visit KC on the marker project.

"We are thrilled to shine a light on this hidden piece of Kansas City history and milestone of the struggle for LGBT civil rights in America," said David Jackson, a member of LGBT-KC [along with Kay Madden, Stuart Hinds, Brad Wolf, Jon Barnett, seen at the unveiling, above right].

GLAMA has planned several talks and presentations leading up to the 2016 unveiling event:

Sunday, October 16, 2 p.m.
"Phoenix Rising: the Homophile Movement comes to Kansas City"
Kevin Scharlau, award-winning historian of Kansas City homophile history
Kansas City Public Library, 14 W. 10th St.
This event is part of the Missouri Valley Speaker Series

Tuesday, October 18, 6 p.m.
"Before Stonewall: the First Generation of LGBT Activism"
John D'Emilio, U. of Illinois – Chicago Emeritus Professor of History and noted LGBT historian
UMKC Student Union, 5100 Cherry St.

Thursday, October 20, 5:45 pm
Unveiling ceremony introducing the bronze historic marker commemorating the first-ever national meeting of LGBT rights activists, and KC's first LGBT advocacy organization
Barney Allis Plaza, northeast corner of 12th and Wyandotte streets
Speakers: Kansas City Council members Katheryn Shields and Jolie Justus
Performance: Members of the Heartland Men’s Chorus
Reception: Post-unveiling at the Phillips Hotel, 106 W. 12th St.