Phyllis Rhodes came bursting out of the closet in 2001 at age 64 to become openly active with Anchorage’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community organization, The Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Anchorage and Identity, Inc. From a staff volunteer, to volunteer coordinator–to Executive Director of Identity, Inc.
Turning her management skills to the work of equality, Identity went from obscurity to visibility in Anchorage and across Alaska, expanding its programs and outreach to new audiences, and opening dialogues
with Alaska businesses, churches, educational institutions and other
organizations. Phyllis provided leadership, advocacy and mentoring to the LGBT community.
Phyllis was at the helm for the creation of the Identity Advocacy Team providing speakers and educational opportunities for public schools, university classes, organizations, individuals, and Anchorage businesses and government offices and churches. The Advocacy Program is now evolving into a program of sensitivity training available through Identity for employees and employers state-wide.
In 2010, alarmed by the rate of suicide attempts by LGBT youth in rural Alaska, Phyllis began collecting airline miles from everyone she
met to bring rural youth into Anchorage to find out first hand that they were important, to exchange coping skills and to know “it does get better.”
Identity youth programs flourished under Phyllis’ mentoring, and she was instrumental in organizing Identity’s first transgender support group.
Recognized for her leadership abilities, Phyllis has been front and center in the local campaigns to further equality for Anchorage’s LGBT community. Phyllis’ presence, leadership, and keen sense of knowing how to keep a community moving together as one for advancement of “the cause,” was evident. She never let the drama become an emotional trigger, staying firm, planted, and with a kind demeanor in the face of
campaign ugliness, she welcomed hundreds into the LGBT community, including many allies that stepped in to the beat of her march toward equality.
Her passion has encouraged many to serve alongside her– encouraging, watching, mentoring, and strategizing where each individual would fit best and become most productive and most fulfilled.
Not once did Phyllis put herself first, and yet she never slowed down. Her ease was like the best sleight of hand; like the poker player that never got cocky, yet always seemed to hold the best hand. With gracious good sense, a unique down-home quality and a touch of southern style, she has been instrumental in putting this particular cause for equality front and center in our town and in our state.
Phyllis’ lasting legacy will be her ability to inspire individuals, institutions and businesses to participate in forwarding diversity in Anchorage and in the progress of LGBT equality.