[The Strip Sense]

Yes, Las Vegas, there is homophobia

From Lance Bass to yours truly, gay hate still abounds here

Lance Bass.
Photo: Scott Doctor/www.greatscottstudios.com

A few weeks ago, the Review-Journal’s Doug Elfman wrote something shocking. Or, rather, it was shocking to me, and it was even more shocking when it drew no more attention and, thus, was not shocking to anyone else in the national media.

Elfman had interviewed Lance Bass, the former ’N Sync band member who came out on the cover of People magazine in 2006 and recently appeared on Dancing With the Stars. Bass offered this revelation: “Every other day, I get called a fag, and get threatened to be beat up. There are still some really, really ignorant people out there. … This is right to your face.”

Several friends and two readers of this column e-mailed Elfman’s piece with the same question: “Do you think this is true?”

It was a strange moment, because my initial reaction, too, was that Bass must be exaggerating. But then I’ve followed Bass’ public life for many years, and he never struck me as the sort to make plays for sympathy or to make strident remarks of any sort.

Oh, and one other thing. I get that, too. Yes, here in Vegas.

What I go through is not nearly at the level that Bass describes, but I am nowhere near as well-known. And I suspect the extent to which you are the target of anti-gay slurs or threats is proportional to how prominent an openly gay public figure you are.

There was a time when such a concept was a novelty to me. I’ve been out for my entire adult life and, for most of that, have lived a charmed gay existence. I was 19 when I told my parents and disclosed my sexual orientation to the readership of the student newspaper at Northwestern, where I went to college. My first resume, the one that got me my first newspaper job in ultra-conservative Rockford, Illinois, included my membership in the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

In wasn’t until 2005, when my partner, Miles, and I started our celebrity-interview podcast, The Strip, that I realized I had been sheltered. We debated early on how “out” we ought to be, but I insisted it made little sense to hide and, besides, the world had caught up. What could possibly happen?

Well, as our listenership grew, the anti-gay e-mails began to arrive. It angered some Vegas fans that their city, a bastion of heterosexual male fantasy, was being taken over by, in their loving parlance, “cocksuckers like you.” At first I would engage the haters, writing back either thoughtful or nasty responses. Neither was effective, so I began hitting delete.

Then I published my Gay Vegas guidebook, started my blog and this column and began to appear regularly on Vegas PBS’ journalist roundtable Nevada Week in Review. What began as an occasional irritation has become a steady rash. The creepiest, most unsettling moment was when, after I took MGM Mirage and Cirque du Soleil to task on my blog for not more forcefully denouncing Criss Angel’s physical threat to R-J columnist Norm Clarke, I received three anonymous text messages to my cell phone from an Angel fan threatening anal rape or worse if I didn’t leave Criss alone.

A week before Lance Bass’ admission to Elfman, a typical example of the sort of crap prominent gays deal with popped up. This one, in fact, didn’t come to me but to Tim and Michele Dressen, the married Minneapolis-based Vegas obsessives who host the podcast Five Hundy by Midnight. They’ve become good friends of mine.


Beyond the Weekly
DOUG ELFMAN: Bass looks past hurtful words (12/26/08, Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Someone who called himself “Graham” wrote to the Dressens, thinking the Dressens would be of like mind, to say he was listening to Five Hundy and not to The Strip because of our “homosexual fixation.” Graham’s letter said of us: “These guys go too far. Really, besides other poo pirates, who cares about there gay wedding details and what they stuck up each others bums on the weekend. It’s a shame because they do get good guests on the show.”

Understand that in three and a half years of doing our show, we have never once discussed our sex lives or particular sex acts. The minute gay people discuss their relationships, though, virulent Bible-thumpers always conjure up the most X-rated pictures. Who are the perverts, I wonder.

The Dressens, to their great credit, told the guy not to listen to their show, either. For that, Graham wrote back mocking them for being childless and questioning their fertility. They were stunned by the viciousness and even more surprised that I could shrug it off.

It’s not that I don’t care or that I never get unnerved. I do, occasionally. And usually when I least expect it.

Last month, while working on a piece about the Vegas wedding-chapel industry, I visited Charlotte Richards of the Little White Wedding Chapel. In the course of the interview, I asked whether she conducted same-sex weddings, now de rigueur for most casino chapels but surprisingly uncommon at independent chapels. At first, she told me she couldn’t because that’s “very illegal” in Nevada.

Actually, I explained, it’s not legally recognized but it’s also not criminal to hold gay ceremonies. That’s when she stunned me with this: “If two men came into my chapel asking to get married, I’d take out the Bible and show them where it says that that’s against God’s law.”

I was floored. Not because someone during an interview expressed an anti-gay view; that’s par for the course as a journalist. But the way she answered forced me to imagine what it would feel like to be that couple, wanting to affirm our love and being told by the lady who presided over Britney Spears’ sham wedding that we weren’t God-worthy. Seems to me there are plenty of instructions in the Good Book that she doesn’t observe, starting with the fact that she’s open on the Sabbath. That’s one of the Big 10 no-no’s, isn’t it?

I tried to conceal my horror during the interview, but Richards sensed my mood had shifted and asked me if I hated her for saying that. I didn’t take the bait; she wanted comfort for her bigotry, and I had no interest in granting it. I ignored her question, finished my job and moved on.

No, I don’t hate back. I pity small-minded people. If Graham isn’t listening to our show because he’s consumed with fantasies about our discussing sex acts, he’s missing terrific content. Any of you who include anti-gay slurs when you disagree with something I write ought to know that nothing else you have to say gets read, so it’s your loss.

And Richards? It’s telling that despite her longevity in Vegas, no gay couple has evidently had to endure her Scripture lesson since she spoke of it as a hypothetical. Turns out, it’s not that we’re not God-worthy; Richards’ chapel, it seems, isn’t gay-worthy.


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