Jeff Auer is a doctoral student in geography at University of Nevada, Reno. He’s also director of the Nevada LGBT Archives. The Historic Reno Preservation Society hosts his free lecture, “History of LGBTQ Reno,” at 1:30, Jan. 28 at Sierra View Library in Reno Town Mall, 4001 S. Virginia St.
What led you to become the director of the Nevada LGBT Archives?
I was collecting information for my dissertation on the history of gay men in Reno and Las Vegas. … I realized that there wasn’t a centralized place for primary sources relating to all that history. The Reno Gay Rodeo stuff—a huge chunk of it ended up at the Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles. UNLV has a ton of stuff, and UNR actually didn’t have much. There was no statewide repository for all that stuff. But I just said, “OK, I’m going to change that.”
What does the archive consist of?
Last year we completed our first online exhibit. That was actually an amazing find. There was a lesbian publication, the first one with national distribution. It was published out of Sparks for three years, 1970 to ’72, and it turns out that in the library system … they had every issue. I took it to Special Collections [in UNR’s library], and I was like, “You guys need to have this. Students could still rent this out, and it could disappear, and, you know, I’ve never even seen one of those anthologies. They were so expensive at the time. They’re just rare.” I scanned some parts for our exhibit on that. And I realized—especially amongst people under, like, 35, they really don’t want to go to a place. They want to be able to look at things on their phones. So, I thought, “This is going to be the future of how we’re going to move forward, mostly trying to bring this stuff to people’s attention and give them the ability to look at stuff online.”
What’s the archive’s next goal?
I think at this point it’s to make sure the really rare stuff that the archives has is safe in Special Collections. And I think it’s just going to be digitizing—and hopefully the community will feel that it’s safe to start bringing things to the library. That’s my hope. I think for a long time the community was never sure how they would be treated, and especially the further back you go, there was outright discrimination. That was just the name of the game.
Do you expect things like personal letters, family documents, that kind of thing?
Yeah, that is always really important, especially for marginalized communities. Before the 70s, it wasn’t even common to see the word “gay” published in major newspapers. I can’t remember which one it was, the New York Times or somebody, said they wouldn’t publish “gay” or “homosexual.” … In that context, people in the LGBTQ community didn’t feel safe documenting their stories, and the media wouldn’t necessarily be interested in their stories. Until 1973, being gay was still listed as being a mental illness.
What’s one thing about local LGBTQ history that you think all Nevadans should know about?
The Reno National Gay Rodeo—that has been the real stunner, at least for me. At its peak in 1982, 20,000 people descended upon Reno, just for that rodeo, for a four-day weekend. Joan Rivers was the grand marshal of it. It received international media attention. They were giving hay rides from the airport to the rodeo grounds. It was a huge, huge thing, and then it was over with within a couple years.