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LGBTQ Life in Reno, Nevada: 1969-2009

(c) Jeffery Auer, 2009


-June 28, 1969 - LGBTQ life in Reno centers around: Dave's V.I.P. Bar at 3001 w. 4th Street, The Reno Bar at 424 E. 4th Street, the Sunnyside Bar at 8100 W. 4th Street, and the Club Baths at 1030 W. 2nd Street. Catering to the traveling community are The Stagecoach Inn at 8100 W. 4th Street and the Westside Hotel which is in front of Dave's V.I.P.Club.[1]

Vector July 1969 400x480.jpg

1970Vector magazine does a profile piece on Reno in the March issue.

The Tavern Guild of San Francisco holds its September 15 meeting at Dave's V.I.P. Club and the Westside Motel.

The Ladder moves its publication hq from San Francisco to Sparks.[2]

Club Ten99 – 1099 S. Virginia – opens, starts out mixed straight and gay dancing.

1971 – The Jade Room – 214 W. Commercial Row – (Owned by Jim Pitt) –opens.

The Trapp – 5201 W. 4th Street – dancing, mixed (owned by Mike & Clay) opens.

Rainbow Room – 2081 E. 4th Street - Opens.

Dave's V.I.P. becomes known as the place in town to go out dancing for gays.

1972 - January California Scene does a profile piece on Nevada.

Pacific Bar – 1278 S. Virginia St opens.

June 7 – Several lesbians goto Sacramento MCC to inquire about wedding. Head back to Reno and start holding a “rap session” in Reno with several men. Covered in the Advocate.

The Ladder folds with the August/September issue.

1973 The Trapp becomes known, along with Dave's V.I.P. for dancing, this ties in with the rising popularity of disco which starts underground in the gay and black clubs vefore going mainstream.

1975 January- Bill Harrah sees Frisco Follies Grand Illusion Drag Show in 1974 and against the city council’s wishes brings the show to Harrah’s. The show was started in 1965-66 in Philadelphia by Jamie James and moved to California. It starts out at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe in January and moves to Harrah's in Reno in February.

May-June 1975 - Reno is profiled in a piece by the gay travel magazine Ciao.

1975 - The Imperial Court system, which is active in many cities across America, asked their "Empress and Emperor" to raise money for charity. Emperor I of that year in Reno, Phil Ragsdale decided to make money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He came up with the idea for a gay rodeo for fundraising.


1976 April - Five gay professionals are featured on a panel discussing "Gay Parents and children" during the four-day Child Welfare League of America's regional conference in Reno.

First Reno Gay Rodeo. 125 people show up. Ragsdale did finally land the Washoe County Fairgrounds for October 2, 1976 and then could not get any local ranchers to allow gays the use of their animals. Finally, on October 1, 1976, he was able to locate five "wild" range cows, ten "wild" range calves, one pig, and a Shetland pony. Over 125 people took part in the "first" event and the winners were crowned; first, "King of the Cowboys," second, "Queen of the Cowgirls," and third, "Miss Dusty Spurs" (the drag queen).

1977 Calvi’s – 73 N. Sierra opens.

Paul’s Lounge – 132 West Street opens. It still operates as a gay bar today, the 5 Star.


Second Reno Gay Rodeo profiled in Alternate magazine Vol. 1 #1 November – references 1,000 attendees. BAR downsizes this to 400. “Ragsdale added several new twists to the 1977 version of this rodeo/fundraiser. He founded the Comstock Gay Rodeo Association and his rodeo project became the National Reno Gay Rodeo. Following the Imperial Court's lead, Ragsdale added the "Mr., Ms., and Miss National Reno Gay Rodeo" contest to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

The 1977 rodeo, although still small, with its new twists donated $214.00 to MDA under the name of "Reno Gay Liberation." The National Reno Gay Rodeo became a total new outlet for the gay community and created a dual party, "emerging Gay Liberation mixed into a Country/Western party" and "24-hour casinos." Dance troupes from the gay community found an arena to show off their stuff. Square dancing, clogging, formation line dancing, and the rebirth of the two-step made the nights into fabulous parties!”

1978 Roughrider – 7350 W. 4th Street opens.

June 3 - Hello Hollywood Hello opens at the new MGM Grand Hotel many gay men and women move to Reno who are involved with putting on this massive show.

3rd Annual Reno Gay Rodeo makes it into: July 78 Vegas Gay Times, September 20 1978 The Advocate, November 1978 Alternate, November/December 1978 In Touchmagazines.

1979 Forum Disco – B at Kietzke Lane in Sparks opens.

Forum 79.jpg

There is a fire at the Club Baths.

Police start crackdown on gay male cruising at Idlewild Park according to Aug 79 Vegas Gay Times.

Photo of Reno Gay Rodeo float in SF gay pride parade in Aug 79 Vegas Gay Times.

4th Annual Reno Gay Rodeo makes it into September 1979 Vegas Gay Times, Vol. 1 #2 Bunkhouse 1980 (reference 3,000-5,000 attendees)

1980 The fifth annual Reno Rodeo makes it into September 18 issue of The Advocate. 6,500 onlookers, 4,000 go to Barn dance. Biggest article so far and cover of January 1981 In Touch.

1981 - Frisco Follies makes its final show at Harrah's.

County Commissioner Belie Williams protests the rodeo suggesting holding it on State grounds would be approval of gay lifestyles, he tries to get the State Fair Board to cancel the rodeo's contract. The State Attorney General's Office halts the debate saying they can't cancel the contract. (Free Lance Star August 3, 1981)


New York Travel Company takes out ad for packages to the rodeo (Aug 6, 81 Advocate)


The event breaks all records and 17,000 people show up. (9-17-81 Advocate). The three day event includes a "Stand By Your Man Ball" at the Sands Hotel[1].


1982 April 14 – NBC’s “Real People” covers the Reno Gay Rodeo using footage from the 1981 event.

Joan Rivers is Grand Marshall of the Reno Rodeo – 22,000 people attend (9-16-82 Advocate). The opening night barbacue was canceled when Washoe County Health authorities quarantined 2,000 lbs of steak. The opening night square dance goes on as planned. Photo essay of this event is captured for the February 1983 Numbers magazine.

“1982 was dominated by Colorado and brought another change to Ragsdale's rodeo: contestants who wanted standardized rodeo rules so they would feel that they were competing on an equal basis. Many contestants from the previous five years did not return for competition. The Mr., Ms., and Miss National Reno Gay Rodeo contestants were no longer comfortable raising large numbers of dollars just for MDA. Texas in particular was disappointed in this area and decided not to return in 1983.”

1983 -

July - The Pro-Family Christian Coalition takes out full-page ads in Reno papers using the phrase "AIDS Alert." In the ads, the group calls on the Washoe County Commission to close down the rodeo because the expected audience of 50,000 created a "health crisis". In news accounts, a Coalition member was quoted as saying that gays "ought to be put to death."

July 7 - NBC Nightly News with reporter Robert Havlock covers the Reno Gay Rodeo AIDS hysteria opposition. Reports that snipers have threatened the event.

August 6 – CBS Evening News with reporter Bob Schieffer covers AIDS hysteria surrounding rodeo

At a public debate on the Christian group's attack on the rodeo and gay people Dr. Trudy Larson gives strong testimony on the lack of danger to the Reno community posed by the Rodeo.

On July 26, the Washoe County Commission refused to take any action on the fundamentalist group's request.

The Great American Yankee Freedom Band of Los Angeles opens the rodeo.

“So 1983's version of Mr., Ms., and Miss National Reno Gay Rodeo allowed contestants to designate 50% to MDA and 50% to a gay-related charity of their choice. Most chose the AIDS Foundation. 1983 also saw the largest number of dance groups ever assembled at a gay rodeo and the grandstands filled with over 12,000 people. The lack of consistent rules continued to create problems in the arena.”[2]

1984 - “By 1984, the ninth and final National Reno Gay Rodeo still brought over 10,000 people to the rodeo grounds and thousands more to Reno for the gambling and nighttime parties. The IRS credits the demise of this rodeo to a dispute with Washoe County Fairgrounds and the Sands Hotel along with the purported seizure of the rodeo books.”[3]

December 15 - It is announced that the Reno Gay Rodeo owes the Nevada State Fair $7530. They are unable to locate Phil Ragsdale as he has moved and changed his phone number.

1985 October - Seven people show up at the Getchell Library on the University of Nevada Reno campus in response to classified ad placed on October 22 in the student newspaper for the formation of a gay student group.

December 4 - The University approved the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Student Union on the University of Nevada Reno campus. For the next two months there are pro and against the formation of the group letters to the editor in the student paper.

Alternative Reader -1 90 ad.jpg

1986 – According to the Bohemian Bugle gay life in Reno centers around:

Terry’s Sub Shop – 212 Commercial Roulette Motel – 352 E. Lake [Five Star Saloon] – 132 West Street Bar West – 210 Commercial Rumpus Room Bar (w/Mexican Restaurant) – 424 E. 4th Street Visions Bar – 3001 W. 4th Street – Used to be Dave's V.I.P. Club Chute No. 1 (bar, laundry facilities) – 1278 S. Virginia Saddle Room (downstairs bar) – 1278 S. Virginia Chute Shop (leather, gift shop) – 1278 S. Virginia Club Baths – 1030 W. 2nd Street The Outback (bar) - 7350 W. 4th Street – by 1989 become two places, The Barracks & Floyd’s (There were hotel rooms in addition to the bar) The Ice House (disco, bar) – 310 Spokane

1987 June 20, First gay pride festival held in Rock Park, Sparks. Renopride87.jpg

1988 "A contract with a private ranch sixty miles east of Reno was made void when the local homophobic District Attorney filed an injunction two days before the rodeo in order to stop the event. Two days in court as well as a trip to the Nevada Supreme Court failed to overturn the injunction. Many people canceled their trips when word got out about the possibility that the rodeo would not happen. More than 100 contestants and 600 spectators who did arrive found themselves only to attend the evening parties."[4]


April 18 – Hello Hollywood Hello closes

In Touch magazine does a profile piece on Reno

The Pacific Sociological Association holds it's annual meeting at John Ascquaga's Nugget Hotel where Shelly Chase, Exec. Dir. ACLU, Nevada gives a speech - "Cancellation of the Reno Gay Rodeo: Civil Liberties Implications"


1990 The Gay and Lesbian Student Union starts publication of a newsletter called The Alternative Reader.

Alternative Reader -1 90.jpg

1991- Gay night at the Zoo started

1992 - According to The Bohemian Bugle gay life in Reno centers around: Five Star Saloon 132 West St.[5], Rumpus Room 424 E. 4th Street, Ron's Piano Bar 145 Hillcrest St., 1099 Club 1099 S. Virginia St.[6], Steve's 1020 W. 2nd Street, Gay AA 120 Thomas St., Bar West 210 Commercial St., Visions 340 Kietzke Lane, Bad Dollys 535 E. 4th St. and Metropolitan Community Church of the Sierra (MCC) 1450 S. Wells.

1993 October – Sierra Voice magazine started.[7]

Same sex sodomy is decriminalized in the state of Nevada. [8]

1995 Derek Henkle - As a 14-year-old openly gay student at Galena High School in Reno, he was beaten and nearly hanged by fellow students.[9]

1997 First gay pride parade, down Virginia St. It was well accepted.

1998 - Carl's Pub and the Patio open.

2001 - Reno Outlands magazine starts

2002 - Derek Henkle wins a settlement against the Reno school district undertaken by Lambda Legal. [10]

2003 - Tronix opens.

2005 - Neutron opens

2006 - Reno Outlands folds.

Reno Rodeo comes back for first and last time? It was small and not well attended. A couple hundred people at most.


2007 - Reno Out Magazine starts up.

2009 - January Reno Out magazine folds.


In January Reflections, at the site of the oldest gay bar in Reno, closes.

June - [Reno gay pride parade] is canceled due to lack of funds. [11]

June 28 - Gay life in Reno centers around:

Carl's Pub - 3310 So. Virginia St. - Leather/Levis/Cowboy/Men's Bar.[12]

1099 Club - 1099 So. Virginia St. - Bar/Home of the Silver Dollar Court


5 Star Saloon - 132 West St. - Downtown bar

5star 001.jpg

Tronix - 303 Kietke Ln. - Dance club popular with twentysomethings. [13]

Neutron - 340 Kietke Ln. [14]

Cadillac Lounge - 1114 E. 4th St.


The Patio - 600 W. 5th St.- Popular karoke bar.


Steve's - 1030 W. 2nd St. - Bathhouse

LaBoussola and Center Gallery - 254 West 1st St. - Store and Gallery

High Sierra Rodeo Association - [15]

Comstock Grizzlies - [16]

Silver Dollar Court - [17]

Spectrum of Northern Nevada - [18]

High Sierra Prime Timers - [19]

Northern Nevada Hopes - [20]

Reno AIDS Walk - [21]


  1. Bob Damron Address Guide 1969 (Calafran Publications, 1968).
  2. Gallo, Marcia. Different Daughters: A history of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Birth of the Lesbian Rights Movement, Carroll & Graf, 2006.