In the spotlight
Two Northern Nevadans were nationally recognized for their work on LGBTQ rights
On the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, national LGBTQ magazine The Advocate ran a special section, “Champions of Pride,” highlighting activists from every state. The Nevadans are Grace Gautereaux, a college student who grew up Gardnerville, and Reno’s Meredith Tanzer, vice president of Our Center and director of community engagement for the Eddy House, a resource center for young people experiencing homelessness.
The RN&R talked with them both about their past accomplishments, future plans and what Northern Nevada’s LGBTQ community needs next.
So far, the number of achievements Grace Gautereaux has made on the LGBTQ rights front is longer than the number of years she’s been alive, which is 20.
“I think I’ve just always been a very passionate person,” she said in a phone interview from Salem, Oregon, where she studies politics at Willamette University.
“I think a lot of people will read things [in the news] and be like, ’That really sucks,’ and not really do anything about it,” she said.
But she was raised by a single mom who owned a business and worked her way through college, so, for her entire childhood, Gautereaux saw first-hand what determination looked like. When she noticed a problem as a student at Douglas High School, she took action.
“There were a lot of queer kids who didn’t have any outlet, who were in claustrophobic environments,” she recalled. She wanted them to have a safe environment and the informational resources they’d need to navigate life as queer teens.
“I had to have some conversations with the principal,” she said. “He was like, ’Yeah, I have a gay daughter. I’ll sign onto this.’”
She filed the paperwork and launched the school’s gay-straight alliance.
She encountered some early setbacks. Her push to end abstinence-only sex education was ultimately unsuccessful. And the alliance’s posters were torn down in the hallways, Gautereaux said, “but it was still worthwhile. That’s so much of it, just making sure people hear more than a narrative they’re told in their small, little towns. If you don’t talk about it, you’re just going to think something’s wrong with you.”
Gautereaux also gained support from like-minded groups. “When I was 16, I was running door-to-door efforts for the Bernie Sanders campaign,” she said. “I ran the presidential caucus at 17.” The Douglas County Democratic Women noticed, and the group awarded her a scholarship.
In college, she started a reproductive justice club, secured funding for condom dispensers and started working with NARAL Pro-Choice America. Right now she has a paid research job looking into “fascist language politics.” Soon, she’ll start the research for her senior thesis on public health crises.
“I’m looking into how conservative ideology has been systematically killing underprivileged people,” she said.
Gautereaux’s most urgent career plans are to get into writing policy—and to productively tackle the ideological divides that characterize current American politics.
Referring to swing states, she said, “There’s a lot of divides that need to be mended between red areas and super-liberal hubs. We can’t help our community as long as we’re bickering.”
As for Nevada, she is pleased to see a majority female legislature, and she thinks of the most important next steps for LGBTQ rights—and everyone’s rights—is to put an end to abstinence-only sex education.
As a Northern California teen in a Catholic high school in the 1980s, Meredith Tanzer didn’t yet know she was gay. But she knew some of her friends were. “It really made me upset how people would treat them,” she said. “I was always speaking up to their bullies in school.” That was her first act of LGBTQ activism, and it set her on course for a lifetime of actions, large and small.
In recent years, Tanzer has been instrumental in starting Our Center, and this year she was among those who secured a loan from the State of Nevada to purchase a $1.5 million, 16,000-square-foot building that should allow Eddy House to shelter up to 50 homeless young people a night by winter. (All young people who need services are welcome at Eddy House, but Tanzer often points out that the rate of homelessness among LGBTQ teens is particularly high.)
She’s well known in Reno for her roles in these organizations, but when asked to list her greatest accomplishments, she started her story with this one: In the early 2000s, she moved to Reno and was co-owner of La Bussola, a boutique and art gallery on First Street, where she worked to cultivate an atmosphere of inclusion in her new home city.
“I had a gay flag out there, and it was the only gay flag that flew in downtown Reno. I got a lot of flak. People said that I was going to hell. It inspired me to buy a bigger flag—and rhinestone the crap out of that flag.”
She said that some churches would bus people to the shop to pray over its lesbian owners, and occasionally, a customer would find a bible verse tucked in the canvas of a painting they’d just purchased—although the pastor of the nearby First United Methodist Church, John Auer, arrived one day to voice his support and offer his services, should the owners ever want to marry.
Tanzer was more interested in acts of inclusivity than in arguing with those who feared for her soul. Preparing for an Artown event in 2002, she decided, “I wanted to show people the fun side of being gay.” She baked 350 cupcakes. Drag queens from the Silver Dollar Court handed them out as passersby were showered by a bubble machine. Tanzer is certain that events like that one have done a lot for gay-straight community relations.
The next improvement she wants to see is for companies and cities to take diversity more seriously. “More training, more conversations about race and privilege, we would be able to do so much more as a state,” she said. “That will help the LGBTQ community.”
She also wants people to get more involved generally in local politics and activism. Volunteering is win-win, she figures. It once brought her through a depressive slump, and she’s seen it do the same for many. And as someone at the helm of two organizations, she pointed out that an hour of a volunteer’s time here or there often has a bigger impact than they know.
“And take your kids,” she added. “Little kids are the voice. Get that kid volunteering.”