From the field to the anchor desk, TV journalist Chris Saldaña has been reading the news to Las Vegans for the better part of the past decade. But even when we’re not inviting Saldaña into our homes (be it by satellite or cable), the local newsman remains a visible part of the community—devoting his time and energy to organizations like Aid for AIDS of Nevada, the Latin Chamber of Commerce and the Clark County School District.
This weekend, the Human Rights Campaign’s Las Vegas Steering Committee will recognize the openly gay newscaster’s work with and commitment to the local LGBT population, with the Equality in the Community Award at the organization’s annual gala. We sat down with Saldaña to discuss the honor, being out in the news industry and why he just might leave Las Vegas.
What was your reaction when you found out you’d be receiving HRC’s Equality in the Community Award? There are so many other people I know who are truly deserving of it, so I’m really humbled by it. I was shocked. I was kind of speechless, because I realize the caliber of this gala, I realize the caliber of the message behind HRC, and to be able to be recognized by this group was just something that I felt I didn’t deserve. It sounds so cliché, but I don’t do the things I do for that. I do them to help this community that’s really, really embraced me the past 10 years.
Do you think there’s enough volunteerism within the gay community? I wish there was more. I’ve been to a number of these groups, be it AFAN, Golden Rainbow, which I really enjoy, HRC, the Center—you see the same faces. And I wish there were more people who would get involved. I think that people want to help, they just don’t know how.
You came out publicly in 2004 when you arrived in Las Vegas. Did you struggle with being in the closet up until that time? The first two years when I was in the industry, I did. And I think it had to do [with not being] out to my family yet. Once I came out to my family, the rest didn’t matter. And then I didn’t realize the importance of having a voice for so many others who were struggling with it. I think in any newsroom you have to have that diversity, because there are times when you might think you can say something on air or write something, and it just doesn’t sit well with our community. I really think that allies are just as important as LGBT members in any type of organization, because allies are who really kind of motivate us, keep us going and keep us in check, too.
You left Channel 8 in December 2012. Why? It was a personal decision. Channel 8 had been amazing to me; when I got there in 2004 it was just a thriving shop—the energy, the caliber of talent was fantastic. And things change, and maybe it was that I needed a change. It’s no secret I had been there for quite some time; I was the longest reporter on air besides George Knapp, who’s a legend. When it came to anchors, behind Paula Francis and Dave Courvoisier I was next in line. And it came to a point where I had requested time off because of a memorial we were going to have for my mother, and my father had just come down with prostate cancer, and ... they denied my vacation request. And that really was an implication of, “It’s time to go.” When that happens, you realize, “Well, maybe my value here isn’t as important as it was.”
Has it been difficult to find a job as an out TV journalist? Right now I’m in the transition. I’ve been so lucky, it’s been a humbling experience. I left Channel 8, and I had a year non-compete, and I assumed it would be easy to get back into local TV here because I had established a name for myself. It hasn’t been as easy as I’d imagined. I did a two-and-a-half-week stint or gig with Fox 5, and it just didn’t lead to what I was hoping it would lead to. So now I’m looking outside the market, so sadly I may have to leave, which is tough for me to understand. I don’t know if it’s because I’m open. You can Google me and you will find that a lot of the lines are “openly gay newscaster.” I don’t know if that’s making it more of a challenge for me to get a job, but at the same time, I’ve come so far that I’m not going to hold back who I am.
HRC does a lot of good, but some people have reservations about the lobbying organization. What would you say to those skeptics? I think the skepticism is going to be in any organization. I can’t tell you how much hate mail I’ve gotten because I host this event or because I host that event. My reply is always that if I can lend my name to a cause that does some good for some people, then I’m going to do it. I don’t handle the finances for HRC; I don’t handle the finances for the other organizations; I don’t handle the political views for these organizations. I just do what I’m asked to do.
If you end up leaving Las Vegas, what will you miss? The people and just the kindness. Sometimes Las Vegas is just seen as the gambling capital and entertainment capital of the world, but the people who live here are incredibly kindhearted, and I’ll always remember Las Vegas for the fact that it allowed me to be who I was. Who I truly was.
HRC Las Vegas Gala May 17, 5:30 p.m., $185-$275. Wynn, www.hrc.org/events/entry/hrc-las-vegas-gala.