Director, The Center
Interviewed June 9 in her office at The Center
So how’d you get the domestic-partnership bill passed at the Legislature this year?
We just went up there. We really didn’t know when we planned our trip, way back in January, if there were going to be any bills. Our whole idea was: Let’s just go up and lobby to say, “Hey, this is the queer community. This who we are. We vote. We’re families. We’re professionals, we’re this, we’re that, and get to know us.” Do that face-to-face thing.
How many people went?
We had 80, from the north and south combined. It was the first time the north and south LGBT communities ever kind of met and knew each other, so now we’ve got this great relationship going with them. But what was funny is that on April 21, when we went up, that was the last day the senate had to vote any bills out—
And did you know that?
No! So we all get there, and we have a reception at the Governor’s Mansion planned, and we have state officials and legislators coming to that, and we get a text from [Sen.] Dave Parks [D-Las Vegas] saying, I need you guys down here [at the Legislature], this bill is going on. So we had to go, okay, who’s going? Because we still had to do the Governor’s Mansion thing. So half of everybody went to the Legislature, and the rest went to the mansion, so we’re texting back and forth the whole time. … So our reception got done, and Dawn Gibbons came out in full support of it, and we were all excited and texting back and forth, and they said they still haven’t voted. So from 5 o’clock on they had all these gay people up in the gallery listening to everything they were doing; then, at 8, we came over from the reception and filled the bottom gallery. So as they were taking the vote, we were all looking at them. And it passed. They came out of the senate, and we were all applauding, and they were in awe at how many of us were there.
My assemblyperson [Melissa Woodbury, R-Henderson] was not comfortable with me being there. She is [former Clark County Commissioner] Bruce Woodbury’s daughter. It wasn’t a good day for her. She had to sit next to a lesbian. She didn’t vote our way.
… From there on we just worked with our e-mail blasts and everything, and the community just came out and was really making sure they got those e-mails and phone calls in.
For a long time I’ve heard people say, “Vegas has no gay community” in the same sense that people say, “Vegas has no sense of community.” Do you think that’s true?
It’s there if you look for it and find it. No, we don’t have a Castro or a Hillcrest, where you’re going to go and find all the gays in one place, but that’s not going to happen in a lot of different populations … I think what we’re seeing now is, even on a national level, less ghettoization. I think those areas in larger urban areas were first born out of safety issues. Not just a sense of community but a sense of safety. And I don’t think those issues are the same in the last 10 years as they were before. So I don’t think there’s that need to be amongst your kind so you feel safer.
You’ve lived here your whole life. How has the climate for gay people in Vegas changed generally over the years?
Well, I really would’ve liked to have come out in my 20s [in the late 1970s]. There was no community center. I didn’t know where the community was, other than Gypsy … and so I didn’t know how to come out, I had nowhere to go. So I didn’t come out till I was 38. By that time a community had started to form. That’s one of the major differences. When I look at our youth group now [at The Center], which is 30 to 40 [kids] strong every Thursday, and I look at these kids and some of these parents who bring 13-year-old kids down to our youth group—tell me the climate hasn’t changed. Not that we don’t still have parents who reject their kids, of course we do, and of course there’s all kinds of situations, and homeless statistics [among gay kids] are still high, but there’s still a shift in perception of who the LGBT community really is.
So younger generations don’t seem to have as much of an issue with gay people having rights?
They don’t care. Even the Jesus Camp kids don’t care. It’s a nonissue to kids. “It’s not affecting me, what do I really care?” You’ll still have bigots in that age group, because that’s how they’re raised, but it’s not going to be the same with the generation that’s coming. ... It’s evolution.
- The Interview Issue
- Scott Zeiger: Co-chief executive officer, BASE Entertainment
- Al Mares: Bounty hunter
- James Woodbridge: Music promoter, philosophy professor
- Sunset Thomas: Adult entertainer, reality-TV star
- Alexandra Berzon: Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter
- Cindy Funkhouser: Co-founder, First Friday
- Charles Geocaris: Director of the Nevada Film Office
- Keith Schwer: Director, UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research
- Rev. Deacon Bonnie Polley: Chaplain, Clark County Detention Center
- Dave Kirvin: Partner, Kirvin Doak Communications
- Vicki Pettersson: Author, Signs of the Zodiac novel series
- Lawrence Sands: Chief health officer, Southern Nevada Health District
- Virginia Valentine: Clark County manager
The mouthpiece for the anti-gay-rights side in Nevada is Richard Ziser. What’s your experience with him?
Richard Ziser believes in his being that this is just how it should be. … He’s a zealot. He’s not mean. And I think there’s even some common ground with him. They’re driven by something. I don’t know. Do you think they’re driven by the same feeling we have about this being right? I’m putting all this energy into equality because I believe it’s right. So whatever they follow, the Bible, whatever, I guess they feel the same way.
Here’s what I don’t get. Why is love so bad? When we are talking about this, we are talking about people that love each other and want to commit their lives to each other. ... It’s not all about sex—are there subcultures in the gay community? Yes. There’s subcultures in every community. Heterosexuals too. Please. Who’s frequenting the strip joints? Good, upstanding married men? So to judge a whole community like that—there are plenty of gay people in committed relationships.
Why don’t you see them [more publicly]? They’re nesting out there. They’re not coming because they’re working their jobs, they’re nesting, they’re having dinner parties, they’re not a part of this [activism] because they don’t feel they need to be, and I think that’s great. We shouldn’t have to be a safe harbor.
How important was the passage of Senate Bill 283 for Nevadans?
I think some of the reason 283 passed was because some of the principles this state stands for, which is privacy rights, individual rights and equality. This is not about special rights, it’s about the same rights as everyone else. I think people are starting to get it. Are we there? No. I thought the [California] Supreme Court decision on Prop 8 was horrendous, it didn’t make sense. But we’ve had six different states pass marriage, and we’re seeing a collective change. We were the 17th state to get partnership, which was a huge, historic day, and the legislators who voted for it should be very proud of it. They made history.