18 May Rita LaPorte & ‘Sex Week’: Reno’s Lesbian Literary Legacy
The Daughters of Bilitis was the first lesbian civil rights organization in America. It was formed in San Francisco in 1955 and went on to produce The Ladder, the first nationally distributed lesbian magazine in October 1956.
In the Fall of 1969 at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) a group of women in the Associated Women’s Society (AWS) hosted “Sex Week”. This event highlighted issues relating to women’s sexuality including lesbianism. The President of Daughter of Bilitis, Rita LaPorte, came to UNR’s Sex Week event to give a series of talks on lesbianism. The talks were hits with hundreds of students attending each one. Sex Week became an international media sensation and Rita LaPorte herself brought the cause of lesbian activism to Northern Nevada and was featured in all the major papers and was even interviewed on the nightly news.
Shortly after “Sex Week”, a schism appeared within the Daughters of Bilitis organization. Rita LaPorte ended up taking the Daughters of Bilitis mailing list used for mailing The Ladder from the national office in San Francisco and came to Sparks, Nevada. It was from Sparks that The Ladder proceeded to be published from 1970 to 1972. Due to lack of financing the publication ultimately folded.
Through the events of “Sex Week”, and by moving The Ladder‘s production to Northern Nevada, LaPorte with the other women of UNR and the Reno/Sparks community ended up establishing an unprecedented movement in feminism and lesbian literature which is still prevalent in the Silver State today.