The Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom

An image of the Phoenix Society consitution.
The Constitution of the Phoenix Society.
Article III explains the group’s mission. Courtesy: Foster Gunnison, Jr. Papers. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Though NACHO moved on to other locations after meeting here, Kansas City continued to have an important relationship with NACHO. In March of 1966 Kansas City activists organized their community’s first homophile organization, called the Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom. Dedicated to “improving the legal, social, and economic status of the homosexual” in society, the Phoenix Society also committed itself to working to unite local and national gay rights organizations.

In this clip from the recording of the National Planning Conference for Homophile Organizations, Drew Shafer speaks about the organization that would become the Phoenix Society, and about the social and legal environment in Kansas City. (Courtesy of: Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen collection, 1950-2009, Bulk: 1964-1975, Ms. Coll. 3, John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives, William Way LGBT Community Center, Philadelphia, PA.)

Drew Shafer

A portrait photograph of Drew Shafer
Drew Shafer

The driving force behind the Phoenix Society was Drew Shafer. A Missouri native, Shafer was not only known for organizing parties at his home but also for bringing the homophile movement to Kansas City. Shortly before the city’s 1966 meeting, Shafer organized a local chapter of ONE, Inc., and served as its representative at the national planning meeting. Afterwards, however, Shafer dissolved Kansas City’s ONE chapter to form an independent organization that could better represent the needs of Kansas City’s gay community.

The Phoenix Society was the result, with Shafer serving as its first president.

Part of Shafer’s success can be attributed to the support of his parents, Phyllis and Robert. Phyllis ran the family home as a boarding house for Drew’s friends and served as secretary of the Phoenix Society. Robert, a printer by trade, enabled Drew to publish a Phoenix Society newsletter and ultimately provided the organization with its own printing press.