I just opened a box, that has been sealed and stored for IRS purposes for over five years ago. It’s one of eleven bank style boxes taking up the entire storage space in my closet with records I’ve had to keep for seven years to avoid inheriting a massive debt. Among the files, I found a quilt made by my friend and mentor Tom Ruble and his partner Brian Baxter.
The quilt was made for a performance piece as part of an art therapy group. It holds the stories of the some of the people that helped make A Rainbow Place, and those that worked hard to keep the doors open.
The quilt from “A Life Worth Living” a one-act play exploring the lives of Nevadans living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Produced for World AIDS Day 2007 in collaboration with A Rainbow Place, and First United Methodist Church, on Dec 1st & 2nd 2007. The play was written by members of the Reno HIV & LGBT community at A Rainbow Place, under the leadership of Tom Ruble with the guidance of Nicolas Martin-Kearny.
For me it is perhaps one of the most important lasting legacies of A Rainbow Place. It is a story of struggles, and stigmas, and the life that was injected into those who came together in a welcoming space to make a quilt for their friends, themselves or love ones. It is story many can relate with. And today inspires me to support my LGBT community center and their programs that support LGBT and homeless youth, the HIV community and anyone looking for a safe place to be themselves.
Those of you who have ever been to any of my apartments may have seen my room, and have probably wondered why there is always stack of tattered but sealed boxes sitting in a corner or my closet. Basically, they contain files from an organization I was a board member of. As president I was ordered by the IRS to hold them in safe keeping for up to seven years due to the massive debt owed to them. I also had to hold several large cabinets of medical files, fortunately after learned of the organizations fate, an organization scanned those for us free of charge years ago.
To me the boxes have always held some bittersweet feelings. They been moved several times. They went from apartment to apartment and when I had little space, I simply placed them in paid storage. Ive never felt budded, but I also couldn’t just throw them away.
They came after one of the most difficult and heart wrenching personal and professional decisions I’ve ever had to make. I was President of A Rainbow Place, Northern Nevada’s LGBT Center and in 2008 we were faced to make a motion to close the center’s doors and all re-assign services to other agencies in town.
The center had been financially struggling after several years of inexperienced management and board oversight. For that reason and drastic state budget cuts, the situation left the then current staff and board with a sinking ship and a whole lot of hope and sacrifice that the economy would improve and both private and public funds would bounce back.
I was brought on that year to fundraise, and quickly learned of all the sacrifices staff were taking to keep the center open, sometimes even going months without pay- just to use those funds to pay rent and utilities. At times even skipping meals to pay for a warm hotel room on a winter night for a homeless youth, who in many cities don’t qualify for services because they are considered runaways. Both situations - completely unacceptable. A community should have a center, and the support staff to run it.
In the year and few months that I served on the board, we reduced expenses where we could and though fundraising we brought in some additional funding to keep us open for another year. As we prepared to enter 2009, many of the programs and services were quickly getting the ax as state budgets shrank went the economy came to a screeching halt.
When state funding the center used to help pay for services was cut half way into the grant calendar the tough decision to close was approved through a unanimous vote and we then only operated for current clients while they transitioned to other programs or mental health care.
Today I am so grateful for A Rainbow Place. But at the time I remember leaving that board meeting holding back my tears. I gave Tom and his partner Brian Baxter a ride home and then I returned to the center and sat in the big comfy couch recalling all the memories.
I cried because I was a product of A Rainbow Place, having received my community & leadership training there after walking in as a lost and confused college student.
I cried for all the youth, myself included, who found themselves in a safe a comfortable space where they could thrive.
I cried for The Little City Kings, the Half Dollar Court, the Transgender group, and the countless other groups and organizations who no longer had a meeting space.
I cried for Stitch & Bitch - the art program. And for yoga. I cried for all the great programs like art therapy, testing, counseling, the LGBT archives, the support groups, the library, and for the free or low cost counseling services for struggling teens and those who needed it.
But I mostly cried because A Rainbow Place was there for me, in my darkest moments with a welcoming face, an overly comfortable couch to crawl into during movie nights, and when I needed a job in college, it provided me with a paycheck.
And then there was Tom and Brian. Tom was advocate for youth. A survivor of AIDS. A tireless champion who had been there, done that and yes- he and Brian even had the T-shirt and posters. Yes! Literally- they had the t-shirts from long ago AIDS walks, they collected them from protests and rallys during the ACT-Up era, from LGBT events they attended. They turned the t-shirts into a quilt that hung at the center. And at home Brian even had a poster from New York City’s legendary The Saint the birthplace of circuit parties, and new standard by which gay nightclubs and parties would be measured by- ohh how I wanted that poster on my walls!
Tom and Brian came to Reno from NYC filled with electric stories of their pasts, and here I was - this naive gay boy from a small frontier Nevada town taking it all in. Learning, growing, and becoming the person I am today simply because Tom took me in as my mentor. As my friend. And as a colleague.
I knew that so much good had come to my life- simply because I was fortunate to have an LGBT Center in my home town. It was a safe and welcoming place with no pressure to be anyone- except myself. And I am so grateful for that.
To this day, some of the most incredible experiences and closest friendships all have a direct link back to A Rainbow Place. And in that sense, A Rainbow Place still brings safety and comfort to my life.
When Tom passed away in 2009, I often wondered if he might still be here had he not given so much of himself to keep the doors open. But then I quickly shake my head, knowing Tom would have it no other way, and the magnitude of the sacrifices he and others made hits hard. He had truly lived his role in “A Life Worth Living”.
I know I am a better person because Tom was a friend of mine. So as I sit here right now remembering my friend Tom and reflecting on my own life worth living, I’m renewing my pledge to support our local San Diego LGBT Center and in Tom’s name pledging to support Build Our Center, so that Reno can soon have a space for youth and our community.
Tom Ruble and Brian Baxter, photo credit: Sparks Tribune - Infected and affected Gay couple shares need for solutions to AIDS safe haven
A Rainbow Place changed my life in immense and powerful ways. Now it’s up to me pay it forward for a time that another teen or individual may seek the refuge of a community center. I encourage you all to do the same- pledge today and become a supporter of your LGBT Center. Whether it’s time, talent or treasure, your gift is enriching the lives of all the people they serve, and giving people like me an opportunity to make something greater of ourselves.
I LOVE AND MISS YOU TOM!