Changed Our Times
by David W. Jackson
In this season of giving thanks, I am thankful for a Kansas City mother who loved her gay son and broadcast her steadfast and unconditional love to the world. She documented LGBT life in Kansas City, too.
Phyllis Fay and Bob Shafer were the proud parents of their gay son, Drew Robert Shafer, who grew up and became one of Kansas City’s leading gay activists and is recognized on the city’s first LGBT-related marker that was dedicated at the northeast corner of Barney Allis Plaza on Oct. 20.
Phyllis Forney was born in LaCrosse, Kan., on Aug. 7, 1908. She married Robert Shafer, who was born in Lincoln, Kan., April 30, 1909. The Shafers moved to Kansas City in 1945 and the Forneys around 1943.
Drew was born on April 9, 1936. Drew “came out” at an early age and his parents supported him unconditionally. His mother supported him enthusiastically.
Mrs. Shafer scrapbooked and collected printed source material on issues relating to gays and lesbians in Kansas City. She also clipped articles from across the country, and pe
ople sent them to her. Topics included the long-standing questions of gays and lesbians in the military, and their equal right to legally marry—clippings that go back to the 1950s, and a few to the 1930s.
Not thoroughly covered in these scrapbooks, sadly, is all the work she and Drew did for the The Phoenix Society that Drew established in 1966 (and covered over three installments in previous issues of The Phoenix Newsletter).
Shafer’s scrapbooks titled, “Gays: Changing Times,” include dated material from 1937 through 1990, although coverage is most consistent from 1965-1985. While most of the articles are in near chronological order, there are a number of un-sequenced articles.
The title assigned by Mrs. Shafer is appropriate. As you study these clippings from the beginning, you can feel the oppression in the way LGBT-related news was covered by the mainstream media, and the type of news about “homosexuals”that was reported in the few years before the June 1969 Stonewall riots.
The “gay liberation movement” arguably launched in 1965 when activists led a non-violent protest in Washington, D.C., for equal employment in government and civil service. And a few of the earliest clippings in these scrapbooks cover this first wave of demonstration. These scrapbooks document the ramp-up towards what culminated in the Stonewall riots, which changed LGBT history forever.
As time progressed, you begin to see through more activism these assembled. The words “gay” and “lesbian” begin to replace “homosexual” in many instances. The tone and feeling of the collected articles begins to lighten and brighten through the end of the first scrapbook.
But with the positive coverage came negative events that garnered headlines. The shocking murder of San Francisco Mayor Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk, for instance, are the leading set of articles at the beginning of the second scrapbook. More activism and coverage of equal rights dominated media coverage through the 1970s and early ’80s.
Much ink was attributed to Anita Bryant and her campaign to “Save Our Children.” With all the polarizing and hateful coverage she generated, Mrs. Shafer commented in a handwritten note that Bryant in the long run did more good than bad for gays and lesbians.
The tone or feeling represented in the clippings of these scrapbooks shifts once again when, in October 1982, the Kansas City Star first reported “Disease Afflicting Homosexuals Reported in Kansas City.” The remainder of the collection of articles focus on the “gay plague” that was soon given the name AIDS. Many of the clippings at the end of the second scrapbook remain loose and were never assembled or affixed.
Local, regional and national newspaper and magazine clippings comprise the majority of clipped and pasted or Scotch-taped material in these oversized scrapbooks, which were recycled wallpaper sample books. To see a vibrant wallpaper pattern as a backdrop to articles about gays and lesbians might bring a smile to some researchers. It is believed that people sent clippings to Mrs. Shafer from afar when she served as secretary to The Phoenix Society. It is not known when or why she began assembling the clippings into scrapbooks. It may be possible to try and date the wallpaper samples in order to better ascertain the date after which these scrapbooks began to be assembled.
Occasionally, there are programs, primarily from the Metropolitan Community Church of Kansas City, of which both Robert and Phyllis Shafer were founding members. After much investigation of items pasted throughout, one can detail the origin and evolution of this inclusive Kansas City ministry’s impact on the community. There are several invitations to Holy Unions or other commitment ceremonies that Shafer collected from congregants at MCC-KC. There are a couple of transcripts of speeches by Mrs. Shafer. There are also her many handwritten notes throughout that comment to the reader to be sure and pay attention to one article or another, or to add commentary about the validity of one article, or point out the sanctimonious nature of another article.
These scrapbooks also provide perhaps the most comprehensive collection of “Ann Landers” columns related to gay and lesbian issues. They run throughout and the first dated one appears from 1950 when Landers provides advice to a “Shattered Mother-in-Law” whose daughter’s husband, after six months of marriage, had had no physical interest in her. Landers wrote, “The chances for ‘curing’ a homosexual are slim, even when the sick one wants desperately to live a normal life.” She pushed for an annulment.
Only a small selection of clippings were found for Landers’ sister’s column, “Dear Abby.” And there was an article or two from a lesser-known syndicated columnist, Dr. Molner, who proclaimed in 1950 that “overindulgence or overprotectiveness on the part of the mother may be a factor in homosexual tendencies.”
Of the very few references to Mrs. Shafer and her son, Drew, other than a couple of well-publicized 1977 protest marches they took part in Columbia and Kansas City, is the announcement of Bob and Phyllis Shafer’s remarriage on May 10, 1981, at the MCC Church.
Robert Shafer died on March 15, 1992. Phyllis Shafer died on November 24, 1993. Like Drew, they, too, were cremated. Give thanks to people like the Shafers and to those who’ve donated their materials to GLAMA for posterity.
David W. Jackson is co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA) and activist/archivist for The Orderly Pack Rat (orderlypackrat.com). Phyllis Shafer’s scrapbooks are just two of the many hundreds of items that have been donated since December 2009 with the creation of GLAMA.
To donate to GLAMA, visit glama.us, call 816-235-5712, or mail your items to: Stuart Hinds, c/o GLAMA, LaBudde Special Collections, 326 Miller Nichols Library, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 800 E 51st St., Kansas City, MO 64110.