I met with Jamie Hemingway, marketing library assistant, and Debi Stears, collection development manager, on Friday at the Downtown Branch of the Washoe County Library.
Jamie has always been involved as an ally in the artsy LGBTQ world and Debi’s been a straight woman in a gay world of friends and roommates and bars since she was young.
Jamie jumped onto my radar during a LinkedIn search for LGBTQ in Reno. She is listed as hosting Drag Queen Story Time for the last few years. She organized it for the first time in 2019, around Pride. You may have read about it in national news that even the mayor of Sparks opposed. Though the turn-out was FANTASTIC.
In 2022, they plan to host Drag Queen Story Times on June 25th at the Downtown branch at 10:30 and 11:30am and on June 26th at the Sparks branch at 10:30 and 11:30am.
The Downtown branch space is AMAZING. It’s like walking into a rain forest. They have these floating pods with plants all around where you can sit under the natural ceiling lights. The entire roof is windows!
On the ground floor, two floors under the entrance, there is a pond with running water. The floor of the ground floor is littered with the leaves that have fallen off the plants over the night.
Jamie and Debi told me that when the library was being planned, they wanted to site it at Idlewild Park by the river. But because books and water don’t go so well together and rivers have been known to flood and destroy anything in their path, the move was denied. So whoever was running the show back then said, “Fine. If we can’t have the library in the park, we are going to have a park in the library.” Hence, the indoor rainforest.
Y’all, check this place out. It’s incredible. And check out my next post to learn more about all the awesome things that the library provides to the community.
The kiddo-ski area of the library. Credit: Erica Pionke.
The Queer Grad Collective (QGC) is an officially-sanctioned Graduate Student Association (GSA) University of Reno (UNR) social club. I met via Zoom this week with M (she/her/they/them) to learn more about them and the club’s origins.
M is a grad student pursuing a Masters in Fine Arts in creative writing, particularly in the genre of science fiction. They hail from the fine state of Washington. Two years ago, M met Cas (she/her/he/him/they/them) on Lex, a text-centered social app that connects queer lovers and friends (I had to look that one up). Cas, a Ph.D. candidate in the Environmental Science realm, had posted that there were no queer resources for graduate students at UNR. M and Cas met virtually and quickly came up with a constitution, found a network of students and faculty to support the group, and brought the school on board to found the QGC.
QGC’s mission is to make and create a safe community for queer graduates and people throughout the campus. They have long-term plans to engage in activism, but for now, they are a social organization.
The group meets currently every other Friday from 11-noon. They started two years ago in a virtual environment, then moved to in-person, then back on-line. M said that they generally have about ten to fifteen people attend each meeting.
Right now, they are planning an end-of-semester afternoon picnic bash at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in Reno sometime in the first two weeks of May.
M said to join the mailing list or log into Discord (I haven’t figured either of these things out yet) to get the details on the event.
Being a social group, their primary objective is connecting people on campus. They have an Instagram @qgc_unr. And they maintain this elusive listserve that I have yet to find.
M said that their marketing strategy thus far has been
Put up flyers at UNR campus bulletin boards
Use the QLAB listserve
Bulk emails to UNR department
Maintain an Instagram presence
Set up tables at the GSA club fair and other events
Partner with other student organizations, both graduate and undergraduate
They have plans to connect with Our Center in the near future.
When I asked M what they are particularly proud of being involved with at QGC, they said that they are just proud that QGC still exists. M said that it has been tough in the last two years under COVID-19 restrictions to meet people in a town new to them and get to know each other virtually.
Nonetheless, QGC has partnered with the Associated Students of the University of Nevada (ASUN), the student government of UNR, to host a Q&A for students. They’ve hosted a joint holiday party. They’ve partnered with the undergraduate Queer Student Union (QSU) on a gender-affirming closet exchange and plan to host a mentorship program with them next year. They’ve also partnered with QLAB; the local chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM); and UNR Pride.
When I asked about plans for the future, M said they had no hard plans right now because of the lingering uncertainty of COVID. M did tell me about their undergraduate queer center in Washington, which had its own dedicated space, held book clubs, support groups, and bitch and stitches. Though M didn’t specifically say that was the goal, we did discuss how it would be great to have a place where all the LGBTQ organizations could meet and hold space.
Like me, M is excited to attend their first Pride in Nevada and see how the Biggest Little City does it. When I asked what is one of M’s favorite queer spaces or events in Reno, they told me the Holland Project. I had never heard about it before; M says it’s an all-ages venue with a really cool art space and art classes. M looks forward to going to a show there soon.
When I asked M what they want people to know about QGC, they said they want people to know that QGC is working to foster the first explicit community on the UNR campus for queer graduate students. QGC is achieving this through community building activities and hopes to continue in the future with social activism and engagement.
The Transgender Allies Group (TAG) is an advocacy group for transgender people in Nevada. They go to the Nevada state legislature and lobby to have bills passed and sometimes terminated.
TAG has been around since 2010. A bathroom bill brought TAG into existence. At the time, Nevada was considered one of the lowest states for LGBTQ welcomeness. As a result of massive legislation in this state over the years, Nevada, in 2020, was ranked number ONE by USA Today as the most LGBTQ-friendly state in the nation. The rankings looked at legislation, number of hate crimes, and LGBTQ population per state.
Some TAG wins here in our good ‘ole Nevada:
One of the easiest states to get ones birth certificate changed
It is very easy to change ones’ gender marker
No longer have to publish your name in the newspaper when you do a name change
No longer have to prove to the DMV that a 3rd party verifies who you are
One of the few states that has an X gender on drivers’ licenses
When I spoke with Sherrie Scaffidi, the president of TAG (see here and here for more on Sherrie) she said one of the reasons they have been so successful is that TAG has good rapport with the Nevada State Senators. Nevada has four open LGBTQ legislators. Sherrie said it has been easy to get them on board with getting various bills sponsored, supported, or killed.
The TAG board is currently comprised of two transgender women, two transgender men, and one cis gay man. These folks are the president, secretary, treasurer, and two directors.
The meetings are held via Zoom on the fourth Thursday of every month in conjunction with Northern Nevada’s Carson City chapter of PFLAG, for which Sherrie is also the president. For anyone who is not familiar with PFLAG, they are the first and largest organization for LGBTQ people, their parents and families, and allies.
TAG has about 12 active members, but Sherrie knows that they touch the lives of many, many more in Nevada. It’s unknown exactly how many people, though, because TAG does not maintain a listserve in order to preserve anonymity of those seeking assistance. TAG often deals with people who are not ready to come out. Sherrie estimates they affect 50 to 100 people personally and one-on-one per year in helping with transitioning legal tasks like name changes.
When a bill gets passed specific to the transgender community, TAG doesn’t know how exactly many people they are going to touch. Nevada is estimated to have approximately 12,600 transgender people in 2022.
They have a great name-change roadmap and forms on their website and a ton of resources, but the website is definitely out of date, so I know some of it is not useful any more.
They need to update their woefully out-of-date website and develop a business presence on LinkedIn. They do have a twitter @TAGNevada which is very active, and I applaud that.
TAG needs to work on their marketing and outreach. Because they don’t collect listserves, they don’t have much of an outreach strategy. Mostly, it’s just Sherrie putting her personal contact information out everywhere she can. They get some contacts through PFLAG.
Although not a social group, TAG hosts a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church in Reno every November.
TAG’s most current issue is advocating for the LGBTQ community in the Nevada prison system. Transgender inmates are being put in the wrong gender population. A transgender woman’s legal documents may confirm that she is female, but because she has male genitalia, she is often placed with the men’s population. These inmates are often denied their hormones. TAG is bringing new legislation in the latest session to address these injustices.
Sherrie wants you to know that TAG can help with anything having to do with gender transitioning. And if you show them something they have never seen before and don’t have an answer to, they want to help you figure it out.
Sherrie helped me in 2021 to develop a powerpoint presentation for my organization on terminology and etiquette related to transitioning and transgender employees.
I don’t know if it was because it was my first time back in live theater since the pandemic (I’m sure that helped), but this play gave me sooooooo many feels.
They still have a few shows left next weekend: March 24, 25, 26 at 7:30pm and March 27 at 2pm with a post-show talk-back. I plan to attend that the 27th matinee to experience all of the feels again. I look forward to hearing from the cast and crew.
You can read about the show on the theater website, but the gist is a historical story of two women, a professor and her student, who become the president of Mount Holyoke and a teacher there at the turn into the 20th century. But the real twist is they are lesbian lovers and, gasp!, feminists. The president, Mary Woolley, is a butch and assumingly unique in style and approach for her day, while her partner, Jeanette Marks is a more femme character.
They have an age difference, according to Wikipedia, of 12 years. So as whiny and immature as the Marks character is written and regardless that neither Debbie nor I are neither academics, the story very much reminds me of us.
I immediately connected to the demographics of the characters. I also realized quite early that I have never seen a butch lesbian character portrayed in live theater.
Woolley is an aggressive, ambitious, visionary and unique woman and feminist, to which I also could relate. One important line I will never forget was when Marks was berating Woolley for not carrying forth her vision of revolution, and Woolley replies, “I am the revolution.” I immediately thought of all the women like Debbie who have moved through the world as themselves, forwarding the LGBTQ+ change we see today just by being themselves.
There is also an understory of impatience of youth versus the calculating risks and rewards in the battles of revolution. This includes the antagonism of selling ones values out for money that allows them to live their dreams and the dreams of their partner. This is the perpetual question for anyone working toward social justice.
The lead characters, Evonne Kezios as Woolley supported by Tara Rispin as Marks, are fantastic. It took me a minute to fall in love with them, but I did. Hard.
Terri Gray was perfect as proper and equivocal Welsh, who I wanted to punch by the end of the play. Sydney Tello as Pearl and Claire Hachenberger as Felicity were absolutely adorable. Felicity made me laugh the hardest because she was such a chill goofball.
Kudos to the Director, who I hope to hear from at the talk-back. The lighting designer, Chad Sweet, did a great job creating a lot of different environments and turning the stage into a wash of different colors and lighting over something like 26 scenes in 90 minutes.
Let’s talk about these friends, though: Intimacy Director Adriano Cabral and Assistant Intimacy Director Thomas Rao. These friends, working with the main characters, created some bedroom and night time scenes unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in live theater. I actually found the intimacy choreography on Thomas’ website and I’m a little disappointed that I don’t think I got to see all the goods they had choreographed.
The intimacy scenes were really very family-friendly, but, like I said, unlike anything I’d ever seen in live theater before. They seemed very genuine and I felt the intimacy. Maybe I’m just thirsty for content like this.
My favorite scene was Woolley, on a river in China surrounded by unseen diplomats, reflecting in monologue on her love for and return to see Marks again after 6 months traveling. Her musings were so lovely. All the feels.
If you saw or see the play, please drop me a note to tell me what you thought of it. And if you happen to catch your name on an alert in this blog as having contributed to the play, please repost and Thank you.