Fifty years ago, national gay and lesbian civil rights leaders gathered for the first time at a conference to coordinate their efforts and develop strategies for collaboration. Downtown Kansas City – specifically, the State Hotel at 12th and Wyandotte Streets – was the site for this conference, which took place Feb. 19-20, 1966. Participants included the founders of early homophile organizations such as the Mattachine Society, Daughters of Bilitis, and ONE Inc.
The meeting led to a number of direct actions, including the first coordinated national protest against discrimination by the federal government against gays and lesbians. On Armed Forces Day, May 21, demonstrations were held in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., to protest the exclusion of homosexuals from the military.
That Kansas City meeting also led to the formation of the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO), a group that met annually for the next five years to further the cause of gay and lesbian civil rights.
A few Kansas Citians attended the State Hotel meeting, and a month after the gathering, they founded Kansas City’s first gay advocacy organization, the Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom. Led by Drew Shafer, Phoenix had a pivotal role in the work of NACHO, particularly regarding distribution of information among the homophile organizations that were springing up across the country. In its five-year existence, Phoenix also partnered with local health, police and religious organizations to help spread awareness of gay and lesbian causes.
To commemorate these milestones and bring attention to them, the Gay & Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, in partnership with a committee of community volunteers called LGBT-KC, is installing a historic marker on the northeast corner of Barney Allis Plaza, across from where the State Hotel once stood.
A number of events are planned in conjunction with the marker:
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, Central Library, 10th Street and Baltimore Avenue.
UMKC history graduate student Kevin Scharlau will lecture on the conference and the Phoenix Society at the Kansas City Public Library as part of its Missouri Valley Speaker Series. Scharlau won the Article of the Year award in 2015 for his published essay on the Phoenix Society from the State Historical Society of Missouri.
6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18, UMKC Student Union, 5100 Cherry St.
Noted LGBT historian John D’Emilio, emeritus history professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, will present a public lecture titled “Before Stonewall: The First Generation of LGBT Activism.”
5:45 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at the northeast corner of Barney Allis Plaza
An unveiling ceremony will be held at the northeast corner of Barney Allis Plaza, to publicly present the commemorative marker. Kansas City, Mo., City Council members Jolie Justus and Katheryn Shields will speak, and members of the Heartland Men’s Chorus will perform. A post-unveiling reception will be held at the Hotel Phillips, 106 W. 12th St.
Stuart Hinds is the curator for the Gay & Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA) and assistant dean for special collections and archives at UMKC’s Miller Nichols Library.