Dennis Green still vividly recalls participating in his first Northern Nevada Pride Parade near downtown Reno.
It was two years ago. Green wasn't far removed from a major moment in his life, when he came out and let friends and family know he was gay during his freshman year at the University.
He wasn't quite sure what to expect as he made his way to the parade. He had read stories about similar events in communities in other states, where protestors had disrupted the proceedings.
"I was really nervous," said Green, a young man from Las Vegas whose personal plate is beyond full. He's a senior-to-be, majoring in criminal justice, hoping one day to attend law school and become a public defender and perhaps beyond that, a judge. In addition to his studies, he's an ASUN senator, representing the College of Liberal Arts, as well as a member of the University's cheer team and part of a fraternity. If that isn't enough, Green is also a student worker at the Joe Crowley Student Union and in Student Services. And yet, even with all of his involvement in the life of the campus, Green wasn't sure what would play out during his first Pride Parade: "I was afraid there could be protests, or some kind of violent display."
What Green saw and experienced that day was completely different from what he was expecting. There were no protests. Nothing remotely approached violence. He saw people he knew from the University, and from around the community.
"There were religious faith groups there, representatives from the local churches," he said. "The people there really seemed to have an understanding and sensitivity toward all people.
"It was pretty surprising, actually."
Green attended the Pride Parade again in 2015, and plans on lending his support again this Saturday, when the sixth annual community event will be held. The Associated Students of the University of Nevada, Reno (ASUN), as well as the University, are among the sponsors of the Pride Parade. University parade participants will gather at approximately 9:30 a.m. near the corner of California Avenue and Virginia Street. In addition to the parade, which begins at approximately 11 a.m., there will be informational booths, including tables sponsored by the University, at the post-parade celebration in Wingfield Park.
"It's an awesome thing," Green said of the Pride Parade. "It's one of the best ways people can come to understand that the LGBTQ community shouldn't be persecuted - that members of the community are people, too. It's a way for people to come to understand things, and to share in the experience."
The University is planning to have a large contingent of students, faculty, administrators and faculty colleagues on hand for Saturday's event.
According to Charles Buchanan, an admissions and recruitment coordinator on campus and himself a recent graduate of the University with a degree in biology, the University's participation is emblematic of a larger effort to make sure the institution is inclusive and diverse.
"Having a presence at the Pride Parade shows that the campus is a welcoming place. It shows we are a safe place," said Buchanan, who was a Student Ambassador while an undergraduate, serving as a board member for the organization, as well as its director of recruitment. "It's very important that people know that our University considers itself and offers itself as a safe place.
"As a University, it's important that we say constantly, 'We see you, we hear you, and we want to learn more about you.'"
Buchanan said that in his own experience, the University has delivered many times on this promise.
"It's something you can't really put into words," he said, recalling his first campus visit as a Nevada Bound high school student from Las Vegas. "I just loved how beautiful this campus was, and how welcoming it seemed. I was a tour guide for all four years during my time as a student, and I got to see the evaluations that prospective students and their families fill out. Across the board, the reaction and evaluation always was that this school surpassed all expectations. It was always way more than people would expect.
"And you see it, too, in the student groups. That's where our students get their voices heard, through the student groups. The support you receive when you join one of the student groups is really amazing."
Speaking of his University experience, Buchanan said, "It made me the man I am today. I wouldn't have had the opportunities I've had, if I hadn't been able to put myself out there with all the different things I became involved with. And so much of that has to do with the support our students give one another."
Green said since coming out, he's been heartened by the support he has received from his friends and fellow students.
"I've been blessed; I really have been," he said. "I'm definitely not afraid of how people react. My hope is that whenever I talk about being gay, the reaction is one of unconditional love. My mom wasn't necessarily in favor of it when I first told her. But over the past few years she's come to understand. She's told me the only thing she wants is for me to be happy, and not to be hurt."
Perhaps the most enriching relationship Green has had since coming out has been that of his friendship with his fraternity brother from Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, Gabriel Rojas.
"Gabriel was my pledge brother," Green said. "I was told he was very religious, so I didn't know how he was going to react."
The two fraternity brothers' friendship, as it turned out, would be based on respectful give-and-take, where hard questions could be asked and answers were always thoughtfully given. One conversation in particular, at Starbucks, had such depth that Green remembers it to this day.
"Gabriel asked me a lot of questions ... questions about being gay," Green remembered. "They were all really respectful and well-meaning questions. And I was happy to hear his questions. I answered them all. We had a great talk that day."
Added Rojas: "It was a conversation that worked both ways. I came to a better understanding of someone who was gay, and I think Dennis also came to a better understanding of someone who's not gay. Overall, it was a reminder that we are all human beings. If we get to know each other, we will all come to a better understanding of each other."
Rojas, a graduate of Reno's Wooster High School and a first-generation college student majoring in education, said that when he first met Green, he had never been exposed to any great extent to the LGBTQ community.
"I considered myself to be a tolerant person," Rojas said. "My friendship with Dennis, though, has really brought me into the community, and helped me come to a better understanding of the community."
Rojas, now ASUN's director of diversity and inclusion, said he considers himself a strong ally for members of the LGBQT community. He said the community's foundational underpinnings of love and respect for all, have struck a personal chord for him.
"The community is so loving ... you never sense any hate," he said, noting that a highlight for him was participating in the massive Pride Parade event that occurred in Madrid last year while he was studying abroad. It was reported that more than one million people participated. Rojas, living in a small apartment near Madrid's downtown area, remembered feeling that the whole scene "was almost overwhelming. It was so amazing to me, to be an ally, and to be embraced by all who were marching. It really solidified my belief in, and how much I support, inclusion of the community."
The major moments and the quiet conversations over Starbucks had a profound impact on Rojas. A little more than a year ago, on June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court made its landmark 5-4 decision, legalizing the constitutional right to same-sex marriages in the United States, Green was at work. He hadn't heard the news that morning.
Rojas was the first person who contacted Green about the court decision.
"Gabriel said, 'Congrats, buddy, the court passed same-sex marriage equality,'" Green said. "If you had asked me who was going to be my biggest advocate when I was a freshman, and you would've told me that it was going to be Gabriel, I would've said, 'No way.'
"Now, he's my biggest champion."
Said Rojas: "I think I was scrolling Yahoo or Facebook, and I happened to see the news that day. Dennis was the first person I thought of. In our conversations, as we had talked about the struggles of the community, he had mentioned his dream of one day having a family of his own. I thought that with this news, Dennis would be able to realize his dream. It was a great moment for him, and the community. That's why I wanted to share the news with him. Who wouldn't want to share news like that with their friend?"
The two friends, brought together during an era when campuses across the country are struggling to find the right ways to encourage diverse and meaningful dialogue on issues that go far beyond the classroom, plan to march together on Saturday.
They say it's the least they can do.
"Oh, I will definitely be there, and I will definitely be there to march in support of the community," Rojas said.
"I would like to see the whole University there," Green added. "I realize that it's summer, and there are a lot of other things going on. But it's still important to have a University presence there. I see the University's support on these kinds of issues as very important. When the University supports you, it makes you believe that the University cares, and that we do have allies on this campus.
"And there is such great support here. While I've been at the University, I've met more people who worry more about me than I worry about myself."