Pride is alive in northern Nevada

by Joe McCarthy

Adam Whitney - image - Nevada Capital News, Joe McCarthy

“Say it Clear, Say It Loud. Gay is Good, Gay is Proud,” – chants coming from the 2019 Sassabration float.

Sassabration Float 2019 – image – Nevada Capital News, Joe McCarthy

“I grew up as a gay male in Carson City, Nevada, where there was nobody out. And by out, it means you’re Out and Proud. And I didn’t know how not to be myself. And for a lot of people that rubbed them wrong. So I was bullied throughout the whole educational system. It was really, really hard growing up in a small town and being who I, am,” said Adam Whitney, Grand Marshall, 5th Annual Sassabration, Carson City, July 13, 2109 

Fifty years ago, long before Adam Whitney was born, on June 28, 1969, a riot broke out between the patrons and New York City police in the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, a popular gay club. In 2015, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn building and its seven acres of land as a national historic monument to be managed by the National Park Service. This riot was the spark for a Coming Out, a Gay Rights movement that provided a safe sense of solidarity for the gay community. It irrevocably changed LGBTQ history. 

After Stonewall, LGBTQ leaders mobilized a worldwide political activism network, including organizations in Nevada. This activism continues to this day in various forms, most prominently in the public’s eye, as the Marriage Equality movement has had continued successes changing laws at the state and federal levels. 

As an offshoot of the on-going struggle for equality, annual Gay Pride marches around the country began in earnest in the 1970s. Now, these parades are being held throughout the United States in hundreds of cities and towns worldwide, including Carson City and Reno. Pride Parades vividly showcase cheerful, creative, costumes, folks dressed in drag, flamboyant floats, live music and joyful, unifying messages of acceptance. The main message is the LGBTQ community’s rights to be who they are, with the Out and Proud Mantra on full display.

A couple at Sassabration – image – Nevada Capital News, Joe McCarthy

Yet, an uphill march towards gay liberation is still underway and the quest for equality is once again under attack. LGBTQ communities face significant discrimination in housing and in the workplace. Hate crimes are increasing nationwide. Research indicates that the threat of AIDS remains significant, with many thousands of men, mostly African-American or Latino, currently infected. Young people are still fearful of coming out. Many are homeless, living on the streets.  Headlines about the legal skirmishes regarding marriage equality, gender violence, transgender harassment, and the schoolyard bullying of LQBTQ youth recur and endure. 

As Adam and I talked, he helped me to understand his perspective on the state of LGBTQ affairs: “… we will be here until I would actually like to say that I would like a day to come to where there won’t be a pride parade. Because we’re all equal. We are all living as people. I would also like to reach out to these kids and say, talk to somebody if you’re being bullied, talk to somebody, please. Don’t do what I did. I kept it all inside. I didn’t talk to my family. I didn’t talk to anybody. But I want them to know that you have a light inside of you. All of us do. And especially in today’s society … we all have this light inside of us and please don’t let anybody in power in anybody who thinks they’re in power, diminish your light. So shine it on.”

In 2014, Jayme Watts and Tony Fish, proprietors of Sassafras Eclectic Food Joint, in Carson City launched Sassabration, a Celebration of Diversity, Community, and Unity, a Pride fundraiser to benefit the Ron Wood Family Resource Center and PFLAG Carson Region. Adam at the time was best known for his one-person show at the Bruka Theater in Reno, portraying Bea Arthur.  With a little encouragement, he signed on as Grand Marshall. Jayme’s friends, the all-female rock band, Sapphic Musk, was also instrumental in the launch and continues to headline every year.  Read more about Sassabration here.

I asked Adam what Sassabration means to him. “That’s a little bit of a loaded question, but I will try to get through it for you. Sassabration to me is, what Sassabration means to me is that I am able, as an adult, to maybe give a venue for the kids to be themselves. That is my passion in life is to fight for these kids who think that it’s not okay to be who they are. .And with this event. I’m just hoping to reach them.”

Listen to a conversation with Adam Whitney. 

Tyler is a volunteer with the local chapter of the Human Rights Campaign.  He has a clear sense of purpose and that is the reason why he’s at Sassabration. “The Human Rights Campaign, we’re the largest pro LGBTQ activist organization in the country, and we’re part of the 10 most powerful lobbyist organizations in Congress at this session. We’re just here to spread our message of equal love, equal life … We are also going to be at Northern Nevada Pride all day. So please come by and check us out and say hello. It is going to be on July 27, at the Island Park over in downtown Reno.”

Human Rights Campaign – image – Nevada Capital News, Joe McCarthy

Tyler’s audio interview.

The Human Rights Campaign was one of more than 15 vendors at Sassabration. It is important to note that Sassabration was a free event, open to all, no admission cost barrier. Sassafras donates the entire net proceeds to Ron Wood Family Resource Center and PFLAG.

“So Shine it on!” – Adam Whitney.