‘We are making history right now:’ Winnemucca women on organizing town’s first Pride parade and festival
Shawn Dixon, a Winnemucca resident and owner of a local nail salon, said organizing a Pride parade celebrating members of the LGBTQ community in the rural Nevada town is something she’s “dreamed of for years and years,” but didn’t think she could accomplish.
But receiving a cancer diagnosis in March 2020 spurred her to pursue her idea in earnest this year.
“I was sitting outside one night after being sick from chemo, and it just hit me that it had to be done. We have to have this, and I can do it, and I asked a few friends,” Dixon said during an interview with The Nevada Independent.
Now, she is joined in her efforts by her daughter, Kat Dixon, preschool teacher Christina Basso and Misty Huff, who works at a local grocery store. Together, they are planning to host a Pride parade and festival on July 16 and 17 in the town with less than 8,000 people. What began as a plan to gather a small group to walk down a street in the center of Winnemucca waving a rainbow flag representing the LGBTQ community has evolved into a weekend full of events complete with parade floats, a drag queen show and a festival with vendors from local businesses and others as far as Carson City and Lake Tahoe.
“The significance is to show everybody that it's OK to be you and to be loved and love who you want,” Shawn Dixon said. “That's it right there — just love and acceptance and diversity and equality and all of those things that I think are human human rights.”
Shawn Dixon said she has been an out lesbian since 1991 and has been married to her wife for nearly 23 years, with whom she raised their daughter in Winnemucca. She is also the sole LGBTQ member in the Winnemucca Pride planning group.
The group’s request to close Melarkey Street through Sixth Street for the parade was unanimously approved by Winnemucca city council members during a meeting on Tuesday. After receiving support from community members who are involved in the juvenile court system and county health services, the Winnemucca Pride group members expressed optimism prior to the meeting that their request would be accepted.
Shawn Dixon said she was surprised by the outpouring of support the group received from local community members after bringing their idea forward on Facebook and during meetings open to the public at the library and a local coffee shop. The Facebook page for the group has more than 300 members and 11 people showed up to their last meeting.
Basso said the support and response highlighted the need for a greater sense of community for people who identify as LGBTQ in Winnemucca.
“What transpired from our public meetings has just been phenomenal,” Basso said. “Not just the support from the community, but individuals in the community expressing what they need and what they want. It’s kind of emotional.”
Shawn Dixon said the experience of coming together to create a Pride event and receiving support has made her and the group feel grateful and humbled.
But she and other group members also highlighted the need for the community celebration and support as a way to combat the invisibility many LGBTQ people feel.
“Having the community and vendors and an actual parade, it is kind of shouting, ‘This is happening,’” Kat Dixon said. “We want to make it known that they are seen by other people. Visibility, it’s probably half the reason we're doing all of this.”
Kat Dixon said she was bullied and teased throughout her time in school for growing up with two moms, which made it even more important to her to support the community as a heterosexual person.
Basso added that the support the group has received from people and organizations in Elko, Reno and Las Vegas stretches the visibility for LGBTQ people beyond the borders of Winnemucca.
“It's important that we feel like we can be seen and feel like we don't have to hide all the time,” Shawn Dixon said. “Because that in and of itself causes so many of us to go down into the dark place, and it's difficult to get out of.”
Huff said that while the group is spreading a message of love and acceptance, they are also battling the effects of not being accepted into a community.
“We're also battling depression, we're also battling suicide, those are the things that lead to downfall in not being accepted,” Huff said. “And knowing that it's OK really gives someone the freedom to live their life.”
Huff and Kat Dixon said it can be difficult to come out as an LGBTQ person in the mostly conservative town, which Huff called “very red.”
“I can't walk down the street and hold my wife's hand,” Shawn Dixon said. “Because that makes me extremely fearful. A lot of little things like that, that most people take for granted. We have to kind of hide, and I'm trying to stop that. I don't want to be afraid to walk down the street and put my hand on my wife's shoulder or elbow.”
Last year, Nevadans voted in favor of a ballot question reversing a provision within the state constitution that banned marriage between couples of the same sex with 62 percent of voters in favor and 37 percent opposed. However, the measure did not receive the same support in Humboldt County, where Winnemucca is located, with 56 percent of voters there opposed to it and 43 percent in favor.
Nevada voters opted to adopt the amendment that limited the state’s recognition of marriage between cisgender males and females through a different ballot question in 2002. The measure garnered support from more than 3,000 voters in Humboldt County, with a little more than 1,000 voters opposed to it. Statewide, 67 percent of voters were in favor of the amendment and 32 percent were opposed.
Shawn Dixon noted that she’s never experienced any blatant or aggressive discrimination in Winnemucca based on her sexuality, but she’s still careful everywhere she goes. She said she had a few clients stop coming into her nail salon, called Get Nail’d, when they found out she is lesbian.
Basso said that while the group has received little to no opposition in their efforts, it would not stop them even if they did.
“I know that in the future, there could be people that do not agree with what we are doing. However, that will not stop us. We will continue to stay positive, we will continue to spread love and light. And our message is clear — diversity is accepted and unique. And we are a safe space,” she said.
Aside from the goal of executing a successful Pride event in their town, the group has its sights set on future endeavors to help ensure the support and community built through the event is lasting, not fleeting.
When the group reached out to the Winnemucca community regarding the parade and festival, they said community members asked for a center that could provide support and resources in the long term for LGBTQ members.
“Obviously, that won't happen this year,” Shawn Dixon said. “But it is something that we've been discussing and that could potentially be in the future to have a support center and group here in Winnemucca for not only our kids, but for our adults too. It doesn't matter what age we are on our journey, we all need a little extra help and love.”
Reflecting on what they hope to accomplish in the next month, group members said they feel like they are making history in their small town.
“I think we actually had a little moment yesterday, a kind of emotional moment where we realized that we are making history right now,” Shawn Dixon said. “We have to add to the movement. We want to be a part of it.”
She said establishing a tradition in a place such as Winnemucca can expand the possibilities for other small, rural towns.
“If we can do it in a rural area, like Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Lovelock, I mean, imagine what can happen throughout the world,” Shawn Dixon said.
Updated on 6/22/2021 at 2:27 p.m. to reflect the Winnemucca City Council decision to approve the Pride group's request to close streets for the parade.