By Marcus Lavergne
In Reno, Nevada, there’s a haunting number of homeless youth residing in areas downtown and throughout the city. Nearly half of those children identify somewhere on the diverse LGBTQ+ spectrum, according to information from the Transgender Allies Group.
Reno hasn’t had a public place for members of the LGBTQ+ community to congregate, find resources and get counseling for about eight years. That short era came to an end this past Friday during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Our Center, northern Nevada’s only LGTBQ+ community center.
Reno-ites celebrated the grand opening Saturday afternoon with live music, a food truck, a bounce house and tours of the new facility. Brooke Maylath, the president and an advocate with TAG, came in full support of Reno’s newest addition.
For Maylath, Our Center is a safe place where members of the genderqueer and queer community can feel safe to openly be themselves, congregate and engage in different activities.
There’s a prominent disconnect in the area and throughout the nation between the gender-expansive community and those who identify as cisgender. That divide can be seen in the national controversy surrounding several pieces of state legislation that could potentially impact both groups.
North Carolina’s Legislature recently passed a law requiring people in the state to use bathrooms based on the sex they were assigned at birth. In Oxford, Alabama, transgender people could face up to six months in jail for using a restroom based on their gender due to a new ordinance approved by the Oxford City Council.
Perhaps most notably, nearly 1 million people have signed an American Family Association online petition, which started last Wednesday. The organization’s goal is to start a large-scale boycott of Target, which said it would allow transgender visitors to use the restrooms that best align with that person’s gender.
The bottom line is that there is prevalent separation among the national community, but Maylath says times have long been hard for LGBTQ+ individuals.
“It is still not safe to be different in our culture,” Maylath said. “We have places for heterosexual people. It’s called a coffee shop or a bar. It’s called the senior center or the Boys & Girls Club, but the Boys & Girls Club isn’t even safe for a transgender child.”
Maylath relates the civil rights era of the ’50s and ’60s to what members of the LGBTQ+ community have been facing for years. She says the ongoing battle to be accepted as a human being is a similar struggle — one that begins during childhood.
“We look at a child that is expressing that he is a rough ‘n’ tumble boy, and we applaud that,” Maylath said. “But we look at a child that was born male and wants to play with dresses and makeup and we look down upon it. They’re just trying to be who they are and express their own individuality.”
Maylath says discrimination and the negative stigma surrounding transgender individuals can put them in mental and physical jeopardy. Jerome Manke, the Build Our Center board president, says that more than four years of fundraising and city support has created a place of acceptance.
“The community feedback has been so positive, from the local businesses and residents in the area who are just excited to see the center opening here on Wells to the mayor and several of the City Council members [who] came out last night,” Manke said.
Some of the specific resources at Our Center include meeting spaces for groups and nonprofits, a youth drop-in center, a counseling center, and support groups. Manke also said the center holds different activities throughout the week and welcomes anyone, no matter their sexual orientation or gender.
Students from the University of Nevada, Reno’s Queer Student Union were also in attendance in a show of solidarity with Our Center and its supporters. QSU President Kimberly Uribe says the presence of Our Center is a positive step toward unifying the Reno community.
“It just shows how determined we are,” Uribe said. “It shows our zest. This center’s been in the works for a long time now and it shows how motivated we are in reaching our goals.”
In light of rising strife involving LGBTQ+ rights issues, Our Center is a haven in Reno and may one day serve as a guide for other communities in northern Nevada. But for now, Our Center represents home for one of the nation’s most marginalized groups of people.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mlavergne21.