The Historic Reno Preservation Society on Sunday hosted a free lecture on the history of Reno’s LGBTQ community at the Sierra View library featuring speaker Jeff Auer. Auer is a cultural geographer and historian whose dissertation work focused on the LGBTQ community in the Biggest Little City.
The room assigned for the lecture filled to capacity and library staff set about arranging additional seating outside the main room but still within earshot. While some young faces were in the audience, most attendees were of a distinctly older age range, many of whom later in the event would share their experiences and knowledge on the subject.
Auer told the attentive audience of a relative tolerance in the 1950s of who today we would call trans individuals. This tolerance emerged in legal form, with a law stating that people could wear clothing of the opposite gender in every aspect except for that of underwear. The audience giggled at this seemingly nonsensical law, but the laughter died off as Auer explained that police were inspecting people’s underwear as they came in and out of Reno’s night spots. Perhaps unsurprisingly this lead to abuse and harassment.
The city also banned a popular performance in which women impersonated well known people of the time. This type of performance reportedly offended individuals and the city council was moved to ban not just the show but any impersonation of the opposite gender in an establishment that sold liquor.
Jumping to the 1970s, Phil Ragsdale began the Reno Gay Rodeo to combat the perspective that gay men were weak. The event grew rapidly, increasing from 150 to 2,500 attendees in just four years. As it grew in popularity it also changed from the Reno Gay Rodeo to the National Reno Gay Rodeo. This, though, was not without its challenges. Auer explained that opposition to the Reno Gay Rodeo came from both government officials and the Hansen family, specifically Daniel Hansen. In 1983 the Hansens spread a rumor that you could contract AIDS by breathing near gay men, and when coupled with the AIDS crisis the event began its decline.
Jumping ahead again, Auer discussed the Great Recession and its impact on the closure of many LGBTQ businesses. He noted that the combination of the internet changing the way in which people meet and increasing acceptance of LGBTQ individuals in the general community has led to a decline in LGBTQ specific locations, with the exception of Our Center opening in 2016.
For more information on the Historic Reno Preservation Society or upcoming tours and events visit http://www.historicreno.org/.