How far back do you think Las Vegas’ transgender history goes? Ten years? Twenty? According to local historian Dennis McBride, trans-related happenings in the Valley have been chronicled since the 1950s, from entertainers and community organizations to political milestones.
In partnership with the Nevada State Museum and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada invited McBride to lecture on the city’s trans history October 23.
Here’s a sampling of little-known facts he shared:
• Nightclub entertainer Christine Jorgensen, widely known as the first American to undergo sex-reassignment surgery, performed at the Sahara in 1953 when, as McBride put it, she was “the most talked about personality in the country.” Local police threatened to arrest her if she wore female clothing on city streets.
• Local costume designer Hedy Jo Star, who at one point designed for Kenny Kerr’s Boylesque at the Silver Slipper, argued that Jorgensen’s procedure was not a real sex-reassignment surgery. Star claimed that she was the first.
• A longtime performer in the Riviera’s topless revue Crazy Girls was trans showgirl Jahna Steele, who was fired from the show after her gender identity was made public. McBride said Steele’s contract was eventually renewed after she garnered good publicity from the outing.
• Las Vegas played host to the World’s Most Beautiful Transsexual Contest in 2004, hosted by Steele.
• The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs ended up changing its discriminatory policies toward transgender veterans because of local trans woman Tamara Pickett, who fought for equal treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder after being raped while in service. McBride said the VA initially argued that her gender identity was the source of her PTSD.
Las Vegas News Bureau's Christine Jorgensen Exhibit Through November 30. The Center, 401 S. Maryland Pkwy., thecenterlv.org.