Country Roads, Take Me Homo is an ongoing series chronicling Ty Yule’s experience at small town Pride events across America.
Facebook is onto my tiny Pride tour. I’ve searched “Pride” so many times, its algorithms have crammed my feed with all manners of rainbow apparel, Truvada ads, and heartwarming, human interest clickbait about the queers. Most of the time I scroll quickly past, trying to get to the kitten videos it also knows I enjoy, but an article about four women organizing their little town’s first Pride in Winnemucca caught my eye.
Though I had been to four first Prides this year, Winnemucca, Nevada was getting national attention. Perhaps it was because Winnemucca was the hometown of Anna Madrigal, the fictional trans landlady in “Tales of the City” and Armistead Maupin, himself, tweeted about the event. I joined the Winnemucca Pride Facebook group and asked if I could come. An organizer got back to me promptly. She was overwhelmed with the response and had no idea how many people were going to show up.
I flew into Vegas and from there, it was an eight-hour drive north across Nevada, which is like driving across Mars. I stopped for gas at the remote Area 51 Alien Center Truck Stop and Cathouse. (Yes, there was a brothel attached to a gas station and I got a T-shirt.) I saw fighter jets taking off, ghost towns, wild burros, and massive swarms of what I later discovered to be Mormon crickets squabbling over the squished carcasses of their relatives on county highways.
I arrived in Winnemucca just after their Friday night Pride Parade had ended. Luckily, I had booked my room at the Winner’s Inn and Casino, where the after party was scheduled. I was greeted at the door by the tang of commercial air freshener and a warm woman at the front desk who called me “sweetie” and told me to hurry up into the party once she found out why I was there.
I dumped my bag and joined the celebration in the mid-sized hotel conference room. They had a talented DJ and a half-dozen rainbow-bedecked kids were flaunting their athleticism by the stage. The mixed crowd of adults mostly watched from their plastic folding tables, smiling and clapping. I quickly identified the organizers with their matching shirts, buzzing between tables like hosts, beaming with the joy of exceeding expectations.
I intercepted an especially kind-faced member of this team. I said, “I’m Ty. I came here from Minnesota.” To which she replied with a big bear hug. Her name was Stevie. She was a pansexual mom from Boise. Her older daughter came out as queer last year and her younger one has been thinking about it recently. She and her husband moved from Boise to raise their kids in a smaller town.
She got out her phone to show me the governor of Nevada’s Twitter feed. There were several pictures of him at the Pride Parade that had just happened. She explained they couldn’t advertise the Democratic governor’s attendance in advance with all the Trump supporters in Winnemucca. Stevie said she and her husband want to be a part of bringing out the smaller, liberal population in the area. That’s how they got involved with organizing Pride.
I didn’t last much longer at the dance party. After a shower and twenty minutes of Shark Week, I was out. By the time I woke up, it was already ninety degrees and time for me to figure out how I was going to improvise a display at Winnemucca Pride. All I could fit in my carry-on were ten books and my gay flags.
I borrowed the luggage rack from my room and some stocking crates I found by the soda machine and headed across the street. The festival was held in the casino’s auxiliary parking lot. Stevie’s husband, James, was the point person for staging logistics. He put me next to a splatter painting fundraiser and found me a tent to borrow.
Yuri, whose tent I used, was a hot butch I’d noticed the night before. They were running a Scentsy display with their girlfriend. Yuri went and got the tent from their car, parked a block away, and hauled it to my spot before I knew they were gone, then set it up in less than a minute without saying more than ten words to me. Damn, I love butches like the intro to a Joan Jett song.
My tiny display looked a little ridiculous under the full-size event tent, but I was grateful for the shade. It was going to be 100 degrees and the asphalt lot was unforgiving of my lack of preparation. The bouncy castle with a splash slide was being inflated behind me. The health department had vaccination tents available to my right. There was a dog kissing booth raising money for youth suicide prevention. Both the ACLU and Silver State Equality were giving away swag. The sheriff’s department sent a lesbian, and I got a rainbow koozie from a gold prospecting company doing some local PR. People still come to this area looking for gold.
Darting from booth to booth, making sure everyone felt like family, was Shawn Anne Dixon. She was a bald, charismatic lesbian Pride fairy in a rainbow tutu. I knew she was the lead organizer from the pictures in the article I’d read. I also knew she’d been an out lesbian in Winnemucca for 23 years and she owned a nail salon in town called Get Nail’d by Shawn Anne. She’d always thought about how great it would be to have a Pride in her town and when she was diagnosed with cancer, she decided to go ahead and organize one.
She’s one of those rare individuals who makes everyone she talks to feel special and seen. When she finally had a moment to stop by and introduce herself, I couldn’t help being tickled by her fairy dust. She plopped down on the ground since I didn’t have a chair, so I joined her. She said she had the idea for a little parade. She expected 30 or 40 people to hold some signs and walk down the street. Her friend Christina and her daughter Kat agreed to help. With the overwhelming and unexpected response they received, they now plan to not only organize an annual event, but they’d like to open a youth center so that young queers always have a place to find support.
I know she’d probably told that story a hundred times in the week leading up to Pride, but she was still filled with the love and energy she’d sent into the world that had come back to her. It was the exact emotional phenomenon I’d set out to witness with this project after so many years of bitchy, drunk corporate Prides. The gift of her presence didn’t last long. She was summoned on her walkie-talkie, but her holy queer spirit lingered a bit in my tent.
Elvira, a Latina trans activist came to visit. She told me her son was trans like me then showed me a dozen pictures of her handsome boy. When I asked where he was, she smiled and said, “Having fun in Vegas.” She had read about the Winnemucca Pride and drove up to spread the word about El Canto del Colibri, a documentary about Latino fathers and their relationships with their queer children. Her son was a part of it.
A handsome, scruffy trans man came up to introduce himself. Cheeks turned to show me the “FTM” in sparkly puffy paint he’d scrawled on his tank top that morning. He’d driven from South Lake Tahoe after he’d read the same article I had. His elder dog, Basil, drank some melted ice from a bucket I’d also borrowed from the hotel before splaying out on the bag the tent came in. The two of them spent most of the rest of the day with me. We both remarked on how little time we spent with trans men in our own age group.
Even though vendors were supposed to stay until six, they started dropping out around three. It was over 100 degrees in the parking lot. There were a couple final performances including a 15-year-old drag queen who was too young to perform at the after party later that night. They did the splits and several death drops, in shorts, on the asphalt. They left the “stage” to raucous appreciation, and didn’t even seem to notice the scrapes.
As things were winding down, a guy in a Trump 2020 campaign shirt was escorting a woman in a wheelchair, wearing a Pride shirt past my booth. I thought that encapsulated the general impression I’d gotten from Winnemucca in my short time there. This part of Nevada feels a little Wild Westy still. There are actual cowboys and gold prospectors. But like many rural areas with a majority conservative political population, personal relationships can transcend ideologies in special circumstances.
The after party was a drag show at a 24-hour, clothing-optional bar called Mike’s Mine Shaft. I was mostly shocked that smoking was allowed. I joined my new buddy, Cheeks, at a table by the stage. During the performances, he commented on the number of women in attendance. I looked up and realized the crowd was around ninety percent female.
They were all exceedingly supportive of the performers. They formed what was probably the liveliest crowd I’d seen at a small-town Pride after party drag show. The organizers were mostly mothers, queer and straight. It was difficult to tell how many spectators were queer. I’d seen many of them with children earlier that day. I thought about how many moms with young queer children had visited my booth at all the Prides I’d been to and wondered if moms were an emerging organizing force in our evolving queer community.
At the end of the show, the three main organizers, Christina, Kat, and Shawn Anne got up to express their gratitude to the crowd for the experiences of Winnemucca’s first Pride weekend. There were joyful tears throughout the dive bar. The whole night felt like a free mom hug. As I was leaving, Shawn Anne caught me and gifted me a jar of rainbow gummi bear soaps. She didn’t want me to leave without feeling seen and loved, which was her superpower.
Next stop: Warren, Ohio.