Library exhibit spotlights KC’s LGBT history

When people think of LGBT history, their first thought probably brings to mind the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York. Most people would not consider Kansas City to have played a monumental role in the movement.

According to Keith Spare from Hiawatha, Kan., however, the fact is that Kansas City revolutionized LGBT history across the country.

“At first there was a women’s movement in the east mall just west of the Nelson Art Gallery. That was where some of the first people met who were involved in gay pride,” Spare recalled.

Miller Nichols Library currently hosts an exhibit on the third floor put together by students in UMKC’s public history graduate program. Students also used material in The Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA), housed in the library.

The exhibit chronicles major points of the movement and highlights Kansas City’s impact.

Stuart Hinds, associate dean of collections at the library, helped bring this exhibit together and sees its value.

“It’s a civil rights issue and most people are unaware of what took place in Kansas City,” Hines said. “So far, I have seen more people engaging with this exhibit than others we have had.”

The exhibit also brings to light some of the challenges LGBT people faced. Being openly gay in the 1960s was certainly discouraged in society.

However, one group in Kansas City worked to change that common sentiment. This group was known as the Phoenix Society. At first, people did not want to openly identify as members.

“The Phoenix Society was responsible for changing that idea, and at first we all used fake names,” described Spare. “Then, Drew Shafer, the president, came back from the national meeting and said we were using our real names.”

At the time, it could even be considered a scandal to just be seen in front of a suspected homosexual bar.

In fact, part of the exhibit focuses on two women fired from their jobs just 24-hours after police stopped them in front of a bar on Troost Avenue.

Due to this backlash, many tried to hide their sexualities.

Spare said, “Some of us had wives, but not because we were heterosexuals and in some cases, wives knew.”

The people who participated in these events eventually helped bring LGBT rights to the forefront of discussion. The exhibit details how, in 1966, delegates from fifteen homophile organizations came together and saw the need for a national movement.

Now, 50 years after this, there is a monument dedicated to this history.

“GLAMA worked with LGBT-KC and we unveiled a roadside marker at Barney Allis Plaza, across from the hotel where the meeting took place at 12th and Wyandotte,” said Spare.

The exhibit will be in the library until Dec. 8 of this year and can be found online at https://info.umkc.edu/makinghistory/making-a-movement/

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