Pride & prejudice
In a time of growing acceptance, Reno’s Gay Pride events are more crucial than ever
The city is gearing up for Reno Gay Pride weekend. As the 14th year of the event kicks off Aug. 14, a slew of gay-related issues—like the revocation of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—circulate in the media. The court system is congested with same-gender marriage suits. And with this being an election year, expect even more stories to crop up closer to November.
When the thousands of attendees descend downtown on Wingfield Park and bars next Saturday, chances are few of these issues will be discussed with any depth. Instead, the arts and crafts booths will boom, concessions will be eaten, music and comedy groups will perform, and a good time will be had by all.
Does this mean that the LBGT community does not care about these issues? Perhaps not, but what does Pride do for the gay community if it doesn’t act as an activist platform used to spur change? As the political climate has changed over time, so has the nature of Pride. What was once a gathering of LBGT members protesting a repressive society has now evolved into a celebration of gender differences, with the goal of raising awareness.
With a younger, more accepting generation of citizens coming into political power, the gay rights movement is almost certain to snowball in the coming years. With this kind of momentum and increased acceptance by the general population, do gays even need Pride anymore?
“I think so,” says Kevin Ray, one of the directors of Reno Pride 2010. “In fact, I’d argue it’s even more important in smaller cities such as this. Pride is an event that breaks stereotypes and takes away that fear of the unknown.”
There was an elephant in the room when the editor assigned me this story. I’m a 21-year-old who has lived in Reno for about five years. From his end, he didn’t want to give me the story just because I’m “the gay one” in the office. On my end, I had to reassure him I wasn’t offended by the assignment. The whole exchange was really unneeded, but it left me thinking:A growing movement
As much steam as the gay rights movement has gained in America, how much longer will it take until tiptoeing around someone’s sexuality in similar conversations is unneeded? The answer perhaps lies in the history of gay civil rights.
Up until the 1960s, “the gay community” simply didn’t exist. The Mattachine society existed in the 1950s as a pro-gay organization, yet was ineffective in driving social reform. With anti-gay laws on the books, gatherings of gays had to take place secretly. These places oftentimes would be bars, which would frequently be raided by police. Gays would be arrested on charges of sodomy and imprisoned for simply being there.
It wasn’t until one such raid in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City that gays defied such persecution. The patrons being hauled away fought back, along with those outside the bar who weren’t even under arrest. The commotion was the first and largest of its kind, and it produced results immediately.
“The roots of Pride come from the aftermath of Stonewall,” says Daniel Enrique Perez, professor of Gender, Race and Identity Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Protest marches by gays sprouted up in major cities around the country. Gay groups increased in number and gay publications in popularity. Finally, exactly one year after the Stonewall Riots, the first official Gay Pride March was held in New York City.
“The first marches didn’t even use the word ‘pride,’” explains Perez. “These beginning marches used names like ‘Gay Liberation’ and ‘Gay Freedom Day.’”
Throughout the 1970s, these marches began to solidify the gay community as a whole. Gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, drag queens, transsexuals and others all came together to give voice to their new movement. These groups previously were sectioned off, having little reason to associate with one another until the civil rights movement coalesced. The alliance between the different groups was shaky at first but soon coalesced.
The LBGT community was devastated in the 1980s by the AIDS epidemic. Gay men were the hardest hit by the disease, with millions worldwide dying from it and other HIV-related complications. Some religious groups deemed it as God’s punishment for homosexuality. Conservative backlash was at an all-time high, but the marches and events continued. The movement was given a new cause as a result.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was reflective of the attitude toward gays in the 1990s. Gays were allowed to serve in the military but weren’t allowed to express their sexuality. The Defense of Marriage Act was also written into law, which gave states the right not to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. While general tolerance became more commonplace, many Americans still preferred not to acknowledge other’s sexual orientation and committed relationships.
By the 2000s, gay issues were among the most contested in elections. Gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2003. Many states voted on specifically anti-gay legislation to be written into their laws. Nevada was one of these states, banning same-sex marriage in 2002. Gay marriage became a key argument in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. The gay community was one of the most vocal in its support for Barack Obama.
Today, most of these laws have been challenged in the courts, with rulings favoring gay rights, as many of these laws were struck down as unconstitutional. But it will be some time before all the anti-gay laws are overturned. So what is the gay community doing in the meantime?Pride Today
The gay rights movement has accomplished much in the past 41 years. Gays can now marry in some states. They receive many of the rights straight couples do. They have positive role models in the media. They can even publicly acknowledge their sexuality—although still not in the U.S. military. To many, including those in the gay community, this is enough. For others, the battle is still far from over. The biggest problem for the gay rights movement, however, is the lack of activism found in its members. This apathy could be ascribed to the hyper-individualism resulting from the Digital Age, or from the lack of confidence in government. These explanations, though, don’t confront a problem that every gay person faces. That is, many gay people don’t even acknowledge they’re gay.
This problem is unlike previous civil rights movements in American history. African-Americans and women, for example, were vocal about their civil rights, but they had to be. African-Americans could not hide their skin color, nor women their gender (usually). Gays can hide their sexuality though, and many do.
It’s for this reason that gay pride events continue to exist. Previously the events were used to expose the hypocrisy of anti-gay laws and create gay awareness. As many of these laws are now overturned, and most people acknowledge the numbers of gays in this country, pride events now have something different to accomplish. Gay acceptance is the goal.
“Pride gives everyone a safe environment to come out and feel comfortable,” says Ray. “Many youth even bring their families which helps strengthen their acceptance.”
Pride events create a comfortable atmosphere for those still in the closet to interact with other members of the gay community and not feel discriminated against. They also seek to educate those new to the community about events that take place and groups to join. Their intentions now focus on members of the gay community itself, rather than the heterosexual community around it.A tale of two Prides
There’s still a widespread misconception about Pride. The first image that almost every straight person has of Gay Pride is of scantily clad men gyrating their pelvises on parade floats and drag queens adorned with feather boas strutting around in high heels. While this scene may occur, and it’s often the scene shown on television news, it’s not a true representation of what Gay Pride is. Lesbians and transsexuals are often ignored, as are all the other attendees considered conventional by the mainstream media.
This misconception can be detrimental to the community if this false image is all a heterosexual person has to go on when judging a gay person or what it means to be “gay.” This idea is excellently parodied in an old article by The Onion where all the lewd acts at a Los Angeles Gay Pride parade do more harm to the community than good. While not a true story, its impression is true to life.
The location of Pride is also important. San Francisco, Toronto and Rio de Janeiro each have flamboyant festivals, but they’re all metropolises inhabited by a younger population and visited by younger attendees. These Prides may indeed showcase crazy acts, but other events such as Carnival and Mardi Gras do, too.
When you take Pride out of the major cities, however, a different event takes place. Smaller cities are inhabited mainly by families and people with more conservative values. Reno is an example of this. Ray thinks gay people living in the Reno-Tahoe community are on average more family-oriented.
“Larger cities tend to have more of those wild celebrations,” says Ray. “People who’ve grown up in Reno might have grown up more closeted.”
Reno Pride is less of a public spectacle and more of a social gathering. It’s more subdued, yet it retains the spirit of the more well-known Prides. It’s also, in my opinion, the only time in the year that Reno has anything resembling a gay community outside the bars.A community without a community
It’s no secret that Reno’s gay community doesn’t have a place to call their own. The gay bars in town aren’t really what I’m referring to. Without a part of town for the gays in Reno to show an active presence, little chance exists of a true community forming. And during a period when gays have gained general acceptance and therefore have little reason to segregate themselves, this is unlikely to happen. Pride is the only time of the year for the LBGT population to show its true numbers to the larger community.
For a person out of the closet in Reno, this poses a major problem. This person may not attend Reno Pride, out of fear of those aforementioned misconceptions or for myriad other reasons. With that missed opportunity, they lose their one real chance in the year to socialize with other gays. The only other options to do this for the next 364 days are the internet and gay bars.
“I don’t feel like there’s a ‘gay community’ in Reno,” says Reno resident Cristen Bradshaw. “The only places to meet up are the gay bars. That’s not community in my book; that’s where you go to hook up.”
It wasn’t until 1997 when Reno had its first Pride celebration that attitudes started to change. It came about almost largely due to the activism of Kaye Crawford.
“I organized the first Pride because so many people in Reno were living closeted lives and were afraid to come out,” explains Crawford, organizer of Reno Rainbow Fest, Aug. 13-15.
Crawford was spurred to create the event after Reno resident William Metz was murdered by a white supremacist solely because of his homosexuality. Crawford lost her job working for a large company because of her activism. Many in Reno dubbed the first events “Kaye Pride” due to her large involvement in its creation and organization.
Those who are out in this community lead low-profile lives for the most part. Their lifestyle mirrors that of any heterosexual. Exceptions exist in this quiet area, but there are exceptions for all groups and minorities.
“Reno is diverse in general,” says resident Kelsey Lister. “If anyone attends Pride, they can see these people with all these differences coming together.”
The city has been in a lull for some years. There are no issues on the state ballot to rally for or against this year. There isn’t a gay local politician for the community to support. There has been little in the news at the local level, either.
With no person, place or issue to bring all the gays in the community together, there’s only Pride.
Reno’s gay community had more unity in the past, but it seems to have splintered in recent years, says Donna “Magic” Alexander.
She lived in Washington, D.C., for many years, which had a solid community and many events. She moved to Reno a decade ago and witnessed a change here over time: “Everyone seems more isolated these days.”
People usually latch together with a few gay or gay-friendly friends when they attend Reno Pride. While there, they watch an act or two, share some snacks and buy a few souvenirs. They also stumble upon a friend of a friend and converse long enough to add a new Facebook buddy. The group then disperses or goes to an after-Pride party.
The only commonality between people attending Pride is their sexuality, or their attitudes toward said sexuality. To me, that’s not community.Stand up for Pride
My life is much like any other gay person’s. I’m out to everyone around me and lead an unremarkable existence. The Reno gay community directs itself to this kind of quiet seclusion, whether for better or worse. I have my group of friends and coworkers with whom I am comfortable. If they were to describe me, the words, “college student,” “gamer,” “writer,” and “sarcastic asshole” would probably show up before “gay.” Everybody knows I’m gay, and I make no attempt to hide my sexuality. I haven’t come across one naysayer yet, and even though some in my family with particular religious convictions disapprove, they still accept me.
Others aren’t so fortunate. That’s why I feel a stronger community in Reno needs a stronger LBGT community. Those children—those who come from families that disapprove or disown them simply because of their sexuality—need help. Drug use and suicide are highest among gay teens and closeted adults, and stronger support would ease their burdens. Simple awareness that there isn’t a “gay lifestyle,” but rather gays living lives of their own choosing would allow more gays to come out and fewer heterosexuals who think of gays’ choices as an “alternative lifestyle.”
“I enjoy attending Pride events because it’s the one time of the year that we all seem to come together,” says Bradshaw. “No judgments, just people celebrating who they are.”
Reno Pride showcases this idea. Heterosexuals who come across the event will see that fellow members of their community are the ones attending, not some sex-crazed degenerates beamed down from space. People in the closet or newly out can be unafraid to go solo or can attend with a friend, as the atmosphere is one of acceptance.
I go every year because it’s fun, no other reason. And by having fun in a crowd of thousands, I get to know more about the people who live here and faithfully represent the LBGT community in its diversity. (I’m the gay geek.) Every sort of person will be there, from the drag queen to the masculine lesbian to the heterosexual cabdriver, but negative judgments will be in short supply. It’s for this kind of acceptance that Pride will be needed until society fully accepts the LBGT community, which I hope will be sooner than later. I’m not alone.
“There indeed is a strong gay community here in Reno,” says Crawford. “Freedom is not free, and Pride will be necessary until we have true acceptance and equality.”