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Gay Community Seeks a Home on the Range : Proposed Site in Western Nevada Drawing Opposition

February 15, 1987|ANN JAPENGA | Times Staff Writer

MILL CITY, Nev. — A pit bull named Spud patrols 160 acres of sagebrush and cheatgrass near this truck-stop town in western Nevada. By Spud's rules, cattle and deer have permission to pass; humans do not.

Spud's owner, rancher Bill Dale, concurs. He and his wife, Toni, tried staying in trailer parks on a recent vacation, but they abandoned the trip because Bill Dale couldn't stand being hemmed in by folks. It's clear that Spud and his owner don't like company of any sort.

Yet it looks as if they may have neighbors. A Reno man who plans to found the nation's first gay and lesbian city has chosen a site--the abandoned goat ranch right outside the Dale's trailer window.

"I don't want them (gay people) on my property, I don't want nothing to do with them," Dale said, sitting in the breakfast nook of his trailer on a recent afternoon. "The cowboys around here don't want them either, or the truckers.

Wait-and-See Attitude

"I've never seen one (a gay person) that I know of." Dale's blue eyes were cautious under the rim of his cowboy hat. "I'm 67 years old and I won't put up with a bunch of bull. So I and Spud, we'll just wait and see." He carefully stroked the dog who had fallen asleep and was snoring beside him.

Dale is just another in a long list of enemies Fred Schoonmaker has made since he first announced his intention late last year to form a small community called Stonewall Park, where gays and lesbians would predominate.

A 44-year-old former casino worker, Schoonmaker originally intended to take over the ghost town of Rhyolite, near Beatty, then abandoned that location for the Mill City site, 138 miles northeast of Reno. On this rather forlorn patch of soil, Schoonmaker envisions the growth of a small town with gay-owned banks, shops and gas stations. The enterprise would be supported by gay tourists who would come to gamble in the town's casinos.

Gay men, and some women, from around the country have contacted Schoonmaker with offers of everything from small amounts of cash to assistance with hammering and sawing the town into shape. Due to a lack of substantial financial backing and other obstacles, however, the chances seem small that the town of Stonewall Park will take shape anytime soon--if ever.

But Nevadans are gearing up for a fight just in case.

About 200 Pershing County residents signed a petition to that effect and presented it to the county commission last month. District Attorney Richard Wagner said the petitioners are offended by "both the moral aspect and the health aspect (of the proposed town) having to do with the fear of AIDS."

Nevada State Assemblyman John Marvel recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he has received dozens of outraged phone calls in opposition to the plan. "I think it (the proposed community) stigmatizes the whole area and local tolerance is about zero."

Marvel said he opposes such a settlement because homosexuality violates his notion of proper behavior for men and women. "Since I raise animals, I'm very gender conscious," he said in a telephone interview. "If I have a bull that doesn't know the difference between genders, he goes down the road."

Making a Statement

Pershing County residents are not alone in their feelings. Gov. Richard Bryan said, via his press secretary, Karen Zupon, that it was his impression that most of Nevada would prefer to see the gay utopia in another state.

After listening to such passionate opposition, one might wonder why Schoonmaker would want to settle in a conservative, rural area such as Pershing County, where 3,800 people--mostly ranchers and miners--are sprinkled sparingly over 6,120 square miles. Schoonmaker explained that he feels as though he's making a statement by moving into an area where there is still strong resistance to gay rights. "Nevada needed a little shock treatment," he said.

At least one other gay leader has proposed that "smoking out homophobia" in the hinterlands is a good way to wake people up to injustice. Morris Kight, a longtime Los Angeles gay activist and founder of the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, said that during a 1969 press conference, he and a crew of radical gay liberationists announced that they intended to take over Alpine County, Calif., population about 500 at that time.

As Kight tells it, they never really planned to move there ("We all knew we would starve to death in Alpine County; the growing season is 90 days"), but they managed to convince the media they were sincere. When the group caravaned up to the backwoods county, the press followed.

"CBS, ABC, AP, UPI and the whole crowd--everybody was there," Kight recalled in a telephone interview. Years later, he is still delighted with the farce. "This new city was going to have universities, hot tubs, a vast communal bath. It would be paradise, nirvana, ambrosia, Lesbos. . . ."

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