Human rights

Jay Davis and Laura Grotz

Photo by David Robert

Upon hearing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a Texas sodomy law—which puts an end to remaining sodomy laws in other states—members of the Reno lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community threw a party. Board members from Spectrum of Northern Nevada, Stonewall Democrats, A Rainbow Place, Reno Gay Pride, the ACLU and other organizations spoke about this momentous court decision and what it means for the gay community. Jay Davis, president of Spectrum of Northern Nevada, and Laura Grotz, the vice-president at Rainbow Place, shared their takes on recent events, which also included the very hush-hush passage of a law in Nevada that allows same-sex partners hospital visitation rights.

Why are you all here tonight?

JD: We’re here to celebrate the victory of the overturning of sodomy laws … and to celebrate the legislation that passed very quietly, just recently, that allows hospital visitation rights to LGBT couples.

What does overturning sodomy laws mean?

LG: To me it means, let’s not get crazy here just because we won a little something. Don’t forget we still have to take action. Reno’s a small town. There’s a small community, and we can get lazy very easily because we live in such a wonderful place. I just want to remind people that there were others that went before us. This is a great victory, but we’ve got to keep going. We have to talk to our family and our friends and educate them and let them know we need their help.

How does it feel to have hospital visitation privileges now?

LG: That’s just a great thing, and I don’t care that it had to be done quietly. Whatever it takes to get things done, let’s just get them done. When I think of the hospital rights, I can’t imagine my partner not being able to visit me, when she knows my wishes and I know her wishes, and all of a sudden some family member who’s not as close to me as she is can dictate my medical treatment. It’s scary. It’s very scary.

What do you think of hospital visitation rights legislation passing so soon after Ballot Question 2, the “protection of marriage” initiative, passed?

JD: Well, it doesn’t really surprise me. Nevada seems to have a history of coming down on seemingly opposite sides of issues. The legislature passed ENDA [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] several years ago, and the legislature also passed the hospital visitation rights. There was a lot of financial help and backing from the Republican Party that probably helped push Question 2. It didn’t come from the legislature. Nevada is such an unusual mixture of conservatism and progressivism that you get those sort of things. We’re just happy that it passed.

How would you characterize the LGBT community in Reno?

JD: I think it’s a very vibrant community and a very strong community, especially considering that there are only about 300,000 people in this whole area. We have a lot of organizations; there are a lot of needs that are being met. Spectrum has almost 200 dues-paying members. Rainbow Place has been around now for several years. Reno Gay Pride has been around for seven years. PFLAG has been here for a long time. We have High Sierra Primetimers, the Carson Men’s Club, the Silver Dollar Court.

What is Rainbow Place’s focus?

LG: It’s to serve the LGBT community here in many different areas. We have a lot of youth coming to the center, we have a lot of activities for them. If they’re not feeling safe in the schools, then it’s an alternative safe place for them. They can be counseled. They can bring their parents. We have movie night. We have a lot of different activities. We have a crafts night. We have 12-step meetings. We have HIV testing. We just have myriad events taking place for the community, and we’re growing; we’re outgrowing our facility.

What is Spectrum’s agenda?

JD: We came into existence four and a half years ago to meet some of the needs in the community that weren’t being met yet. One of our main goals is to support the community with social events, to help people develop social networks. I think networks of family and friends make each of us individually stronger and also make the community stronger. We try to do educational things as well, educate our members about various issues, and also educate the public. So our mission, to condense it, is social, political, educational and cultural, hence the name SPECtrum.

How do you educate people?

LG: You have to be vigilant. You have to attend a lot of these functions, you have to talk to a lot of people, you have to get out there. It takes a lot of time … and you have to get people to register to vote. That’s the bottom line. It’s a key element to all this. Once you tie that in, that’s your sword.

What big challenges are left to face, locally and nationally?

JD: Well, that’s a big question. Our top priority is to defeat George Bush in 2004. There are still a lot of challenges nationally. I think we have to be concerned about this backlash that’s already started. Senator Frist [Republican Senate Majority Leader from Tennessee] seems to have decided he’s going to lead the way. There’s this almost irrational fear that if somewhere down the line we’re allowed to marry, that it’s somehow going to bring the country crashing down or it’s going to end the family as God intended it. Another national priority for us is to try to have a positive impact on the Bush administration’s choice of judges so he doesn’t stack the courts with arch-conservative judges.

What freedoms still need to be granted?

LG: Marriage isn’t the first one, but it’s definitely on the list. There are lots of legal freedoms. When [LGBT people] create a partnership, we have to figure out how the legal system works, for legal protection, protection of our partnership, our finances, our children. You kind of have to go around the system, instead of fitting into it, like married couples can. We end up spending more time, more money, more effort.

Final words?

LG: The new legislation is a wonderful thing, but some people take that freedom for granted. The hospital visitation bill is a freedom. We’re just trying to get the equal freedoms that other people take for granted. It gets me that [people] call it an agenda. There’s no agenda. It’s just people fighting for freedom.