C&K booted from Homecoming parade

In the past, university officials and local law enforcement always turned a blind eye to the anonymous participation of Coffin & Keys in the University of Nevada, Reno, parade. But in 2001, with the nation at war and the public nervous about what’s going to happen next, things are different.

And when Coffin & Keys members refused initially to identify themselves during last weekend’s parade, they were kicked out of the parade lineup.

The participation in the Homecoming parade by the 85-year-old secret society is a UNR tradition. The members of the group—which has a history of racism, sexism and homophobia, although the group has denounced such things in recent years—have always marched or driven in the parade wearing masks, concealing their identities.

But everything started to change last year, when the Ethnic Student Alliance and the student activities board tried to make Coffin & Keys unmask themselves, both figuratively and literally. A proposal was taken to the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, which would have asked Alumni Relations, which is in charge of the parade, to make all parade participants identify themselves if asked. The proposal was passed by the ASUN Senate but was immediately vetoed by then-ASUN President Carlos Ledon, who called the efforts a “witch hunt.”

Members of the Alliance then protested by marching in the 2000 Homecoming Parade wearing black with tape over their mouths, claiming Ledon’s actions had silenced them because their concerns were ignored.

The actions of the Alliance apparently got the attention of Alumni Relations. The school’s Alumni Council earlier this year voted to require all groups in the parade to provide a list of participating individuals. The new rules also require all participants to identify themselves on the day of the parade if asked to by parade officials.

As it turns out, this rule would be tested by Coffin & Keys.

Steve Trounday, a member of the Alumni Council who was this year’s Homecoming chairman, said Coffin & Keys signed up for the parade and listed its participants as required. None of the listed participants were current students, but were instead university alumni, Trounday said.

The group showed up about 10 minutes before the parade’s scheduled start—even though participants are asked to show up one hour before the scheduled 10 a.m. kickoff, Trounday said.

The Reno Police Department then asked the members of Coffin & Keys to identify themselves, due to safety concerns about both the crowd and some of the parade’s high-profile participants, such as Gov. Kenny Guinn. (Guinn was scheduled to participate in the parade, but he cancelled at the last minute to help handle the local anthrax incident at Microsoft.) The members refused to identify themselves, Trounday said.

“The police told them, ‘You must get out of the lineup,'” Trounday said.

Apparently, the group’s members had a change of heart later during the parade, after their slot had passed, and they offered to identify themselves. But the RPD officers told them it was too late.

Trounday said he agreed with the RPD’s actions.

“In this time of terrorism, there is no place for anonymous groups traveling through a crowd of people in downtown Reno,” Trounday said. “It was a funny little game before, but right now, it’s serious.”

A message sent by the RN&R to Coffin & Keys’ e-mail address asking for comment had not been answered as of press deadline.

The group did mention the parade in its fall 2001 newsletter, released during Homecoming week. The group discouraged any of its supporters from boycotting Homecoming, saying that "this would not be for the benefit of the university, but rather it would further damage our already ailing Homecoming parade." The newsletter went on with a pledge that Coffin & Keys would work with the university to find "an equitable way" to continue its participation in the parade.