One of Alaska's leading advocacy organizations for the GLBT community has a new leader with an incredible story.
ANCHORAGE - Reverend, community leader, advocate and spiritual guide are just a few titles Drew Phoenix has held. Starting Monday, he’ll add executive director of Identity, Inc. to that list.
“This position, like no other I’ve ever had, really brings together my identity — I’m a transgender male, along with my passion for equality and diversity,” Phoenix said.
Equality and diversity are things that Identity Inc., one of Alaska’s leading gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy organizations, stands for.
“Identity is a place to celebrate your gender identity,” Phoenix said.
Phoenix said it took nearly 40 years of sadness, anger and disconnect to finally get to a place where he would find his own true identity.
“For a long time I didn’t feel like my mind, body and spirit were at one or whole,” he said.
Drew was born female. His parents named him Anne. But Drew always knew that name, that gender, just didn’t fit.
“I describe it as a feeling of homelessness,” Phoenix said. ”Of not being at home in my body. Ya know, looking at a mirror and thinking, ‘That’s not who I am. That’s not how I see myself.’”
Despite Phoenix’s internal conflict, for four decades he lived as Anne, exercising his faith in the United Methodist Church and becoming an ordained minister in Maryland.
“I served local churches for over 21 years, but in 2008 I made the decision to come here to Alaska,” Phoenix said.
The decision to move some 4,000 miles across the country wasn’t easy, he said, but necessary. It was a new start for Phoenix after making a very intimate life-altering decision public.
After thinking long and hard, praying and consulting with church leaders, Phoenix decided it was time to transition from female to male.
“Those of us who are religious or spiritual or both are all on spiritual journeys,” Phoenix said. “For me, the spiritual journey is about integration.”
In 2007, Phoenix came out to a crowd of thousands. He shared that he’d be transitioning from Anne Gordon to Drew Phoenix. A name he chose that couldn’t be more fitting — Phoenix, the mythical bird that dies and rises out from its ashes.
“That’s what I’ve done,” Phoenix said. “I’ve really remade myself.”
In his new identity, Drew said he finally felt like he had found a home.
“Since transitioning, spiritually, mentally, physically, I am at one,” he said. “For the first time in my life.”
Identity co-chair Anne Marie Moylan said Phoenix’s journey, ability to overcome his own personal struggles and passion for the GLBT community made him a shoo-in for Identity’s executive director position.
“Drew was a standout,” Moylan said. “He went above and beyond and brought heart and soul and imagination and the ability to follow through.”
Outgoing executive director Phyllis Rhodes agreed.
“When I announced that I would be retiring, I said that we needed somebody who had a passion for what we’re doing,” Rhodes said. “He has that passion and that’s the number one thing. He is going to step in and leap boldly into the future.”
A future that Phoenix believes his past has prepared him for.
“That’s why I take a leadership role in the church and here at Identity,” Phoenix said. “Because I don’t want the next generation to have to go through what I went through. I want an Anchorage and Alaska where we talk about gender identity and expression in our schools, where it’s not an issue for businesses where you can be fired or denied housing. That’s why I do what I do.”
Rhodes, the outgoing executive director for Identity Inc. held the position since 2005. Rhodes volunteered to fill the full time position and did so, for free, as a labor of love.
Rhodes said she couldn’t be more excited to hand the reins over to Drew Phoenix, who she hopes will advance the GLBT community in Alaska by leaps and bounds.