Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom
Phoenix House ~ 1966
This portion of the Phoenix Newsletter was scanned and sent to me by Kevin Rooker from Chicago, Illinois. (All other copies I once owned, were sadly destroyed, along with our home, in the 1990 flood of the Heart Mobile Village, six months after Drew's death.)
This is a photo of the Colony Bar, located on Troost Ave. KC, MO, just up from The Jewel Box, the famous impersonators club.
HOW I DISCOVERED PHOENIX
I'd taken off from upstate New York around May or June of 1968. I wound up in Chicago, and lived there close to the end of July. I'd heard, through the grapevine, that the upcoming Democratic convention, which would be held there in August, would became a mass riot that I just didn't want to hang around for. I had intended to go to California, but some friends suggested I first check out Kansas City, Missouri. Hopping on the Greyhound, I got off at the downtown bus station, found a cheap room to let, and set off to explore the city, and find a job there as well. I got a job as a waiter, almost immediately, at the Kansas City Club, in the Owl Club, a private gentlemen's club within the main KC Club.
New to area, and wanting to find other gay men. I literally asked people where I worked, if they knew of any 'gay' bars in the downtown or midtown area, close to where I was staying. The only name I got was "The Redhead Lounge". I wound up hiking there the long way around but finally found it on Broadway, near 39th St. I walked into circular bar with loads of red material and glass beads hanging decorously against the draping with red, flocked wall paper all around the room. There was almost no one in the bar when I got there, other than Bobby, the bartender, but I noted a sign in the men's room that said Gays were welcome to come to the Westport Methodist church, which was very nearby, and to a meeting of Gays and Lesbians that would be held there that evening.
Of course, I went. (The old expression, "Where do you meet a nice boy?...in church!") I met this young, blonde, Nordic looking couple, Dale and Donna, whom, I'd found out shortly after, were twins and both gay! Dale told me about an upcoming picnic that was being held by the Phoenix Society, and I could meet them there on the corner of Linwood and Paseo and go with them on the bus to the farm grounds it would be held at.
I had some trouble finding the place at first, as I wasn't expecting it to be a huge mansion of a house we would be meeting at. I could not have known that day would change my life forever. It was at that picnic I met Drew Shafer and his mom, Phyllis Shafer, and the rest is history!
We had a core group of volunteers who worked on the publication with Drew teaching us the mechanics. His father, Bob Shafer, was a printer and kept old printing machinery both at their home and in the basement of the Phoenix house. Using old linotype machines, paste-up-boards, and hand drawn graphics, even to photographing and burning metal plates to print from, we created a monthly newsletter. It was called The Phoenix, naturally, and ads supporting the costs of publication weren't very hard to get, at first, with anywhere from six to eleven gay bars going at any given time. I designed many of the ads and covers, as well as added cartoons and articles for the newsletter.
Before long, we got the attention of other, larger Gay organizations, like New York City's Mattachine Society, and very quickly, The Phoenix House, became a centralized, information clearinghouse as well as distributor for other gay magazines around the US from New York to California and even some foreign groups. Talk about your monthly envelope stuffing!
It was a busy time and things were going well until we began getting frequent media attention. Many within the gay community became afraid of the attention drawn to it and feared reprisals from their heterosexual counterparts. Some of those fears were justifiable, most were not. A sharp division was drawn between those who believed we had the right to be open and be ourselves, and those who wanted to keep the protected status quo. It was now the spring of 1969.
The "family" owned bars started pulling their ads and many gays were avoiding anything to do with the pariah of the dangerous Phoenix Society. There were, however, out of the burning fires of change, a few stalwart gay men and women who decided to try and open their own bars. It was the beginning of a new era. Kansas City gays were now becoming an independent and vocal voice. Only months later, Stonewall would become the marker and song from which Gay and Lesbian activism would march.
Wishing to be second to no one politically, the Phoenix Society organized marches in Kansas City as well. In conservative cities, like Columbus, MO, we had eggs tossed at us and we were warned that if we tried to march in Jefferson City, the Capitol, they would provide us with NO protection from opposing factions at all. We became important enough for people like Anita Bryant to visit and campaign against us in Kansas City's newly built, downtown auditorium. What a grand Anti-Anita demonstration there was that day!
Things were changing fast. The local Methodist Church was still one of our staunchest allies within the heterosexual community. However, it wouldn't be for another five years before PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays) was on the scene and Drew's mother became a PFLAG member. Nationally, it was a turning point for gay women as well, and they were demanding increasing recognition for their contributions to the movement. The challenge was on to make the movement one of Lesbians and Gays as opposed to just the Gay movement which, at the time, implied it was run only by activist gay males. The Gay country was changing for the better, but not without its wounded. The Phoenix Society was falling apart.
Sadly, with its advertisement income withering, the paper could barely pay for itself but it could never cover the costs of maintaining the expenses it incurred in the large home that Drew had been generously donating to it. (The organization never had to pay rent, electric, oil heating, or water and it used up the entire first floor and basement.)
We lost the house because we just couldn't afford to keep it going. The organization suffered because there was no place else it could go, and no one else was willing to take up the mantle of leadership. By 1972 Phoenix was no more. The organization, unlike the legendary bird, would not rise again. Both the house and the organization were Drew's pride and joy, but he'd gone into debt to the tune of over $50,000 dollars in order to keep it going over the years. The rich guy I thought I'd gotten hitched to was poorer than I was, and I had nothing. A positive thinker always, he at least still had his regular job with Caterpillar Inc. We wound up living in the basement of his mother and father's home for a time, and in a few months, he bought a mobile home in a large mobile village just outside downtown Kansas City. We'd gone through a variety of used Volkswagen vehicles, including an old bus that often had to be pushed to kick-start it!
Read more about The Phoenix Society, Drew Shafer and I on the dedication page I made for him.
All the materials below were scanned and sent to me by Kevin Rooker from Chicago, IL
ARTICLES OF INCORPORATION
As a point of information, Illinois had removed the sodomy laws in 1961, which is why The Phoenix Society incorporated in that state, as that archaic law was still in effect in Missouri.
"Coming out" was very risky, back in those days. The Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom, began back in 1966, this was three before the famous Stonewall protest. Most of the Phoenix members used pseudonyms. There had been much older homophile organizations, of course, but most of them were on the coasts in large cities that were more prone to acceptance, or where it was easier to not be seen. In the Bible Belt of Missouri, it was much more difficult.
I also changed my name, Michael Pfleger, but not out of fear. I was 23 years old, had come out at 16 years old, and so I was young, carefree and, although I wasn't effete or displayed any of the "typical" signs of being homosexual, I had little concern about others knowing that I was Gay. I'd changed my name because I had issues with my father and chose not to carry his last name. Besides, few could pronounce it correctly anyway. Mickey Ray became my chosen name and, eventually, my Equity actor's name.
The following people, whose can be seen in some of the above papers, are no longer with us, and so I feel no problem in revealing their actual names. Each fought for a cause that meant a great deal to them. Estelle Graham, Phyllis Shafer, was Drew's mother.
Marc Jeffers - William Wynn
Chris Gordon - Dale Martin
(His twin sister, Donna, was also with the organization, but I can't remember her pseudonym.)
Estelle Graham - Mrs. Phyllis Shafer