We only come out at night

Vegas’ Pride Parade marches to a different drummer

The Las Vegas Pride Parade started 12 years with very low attendance and has grown to expect 9,000 for this year’s nighttime parade.
Photo: Leila Navidi

It was proclaimed in 2000 — by President Bill Clinton — that June would henceforth be Gay Pride Month throughout these United States.

Gay Pride in Las Vegas happens in late April and early May. Hey, we do things our own way around here.

And while the vast majority of U.S. Pride parades and celebrations take place in the summer sunshine, and usually in a widely trafficked central area, our parade happens at night. That's mostly due to the climate and competition — there are more than 140 Pride events in this country alone, according to the global database at the Walk With Pride Project.

If you don't think this week's Gay Pride events are important and worthy of your notice, consider this: Hate crimes based on sexual orientation have only been increasing — from 1,171 in 2006 to 1,617 in 2008. Ellen may have outed herself on national television 13 years ago, and those who followed her lead have not had an easy time of it, either. Even in purportedly anything-goes Las Vegas.

"For a town that sells sex, Las Vegas can be as prudish as you can get," says Ernie Yuen, chairman of this year's 13th annual Las Vegas Pride Parade. "I haven't personally experienced any obstacles here, but I know plenty of people who have."

This year's parade on April 30 and subsequent festival on May 1 are a crucial part of the LGBT community's efforts to reach out to one another and let the city know they are conscientious, hard-working and productive citizens — who like to have fun.

"It's another way of expressing ourselves," Yuen says. "It's a time when we get to come together as one."

One can almost measure Las Vegas' support for the gay and lesbian community by its parade and festival. Both had what could best be described as humble beginnings.

The city's very first Pride celebration, in 1983, was a weeklong series of events at disparate locations, including an all-you-can-eat chicken barbecue at Maxie's bar.

The first parades, in the early 1980s, were little more than a limousine, Jeep, or convertible driving up and down the Strip from gay bar to gay bar.

"It all depended on who was running Pride that week," Yuen says. The accompanying festivals were held anywhere from Sam Boyd Stadium to Sunset Park, but attendance was spotty at best, Yuen says.

The first "official" parade was held on 4th Street 12 years ago, and attendance was so poor that no one in the Pride organization kept exact totals. The festival was eventually moved indoors to the Sports Park across from McCarran International Airport, not because of any discriminatory action by the city, Yuen says, but simply because of high winds. "The city of Las Vegas has been excellent in supporting us," he says.

With the city's support, both the parade and festival have greatly improved. Yuen conservatively expects 9,000 at this year's nighttime parade — one of only two in the country (Fort Lauderdale is the only other city to host an after-dark parade). Yuen says that decision was made to take advantage of Las Vegas' superabundance of neon. "This is a city of lights, and as many would agree, it's much more beautiful at night."

Historically, the parade and festival have always been held earlier than their contemporaries across the country. Most are held in the summer months, but doing so here would be self-defeating, Yuen says. Phoenix is traditionally the first U.S. city to hold its parade, followed by Las Vegas. And originally the parade was held the first week of May, but Yuen says that conflicted with Mother's Day, so three years ago it was pushed up a week.

The next-day festival has also greatly improved. Five years ago it was moved outdoors again to the Clark County Government Center Rotunda, which is where it continues to be held. There will be two stages and more than 100 vendors. The only indoor part of the event will be a dance floor in the center's cafeteria.

A big part of the transformation, Yuen says, is simple — money. When NBC's sitcom Will & Grace became a hit, Yuen says advertisers picked up on the idea that the gay and lesbian community was a gold mine. And this year's list of sponsors — including Bud Light, Harrah's Paris, Fashion Show Mall, Verizon, Cox Cable and Progressive Insurance — seems to bear out that theory. "People are starting to realize that gays have more disposable income. A lot of us have no children, so we have more money to spend." This year's event has the largest sponsorship yet, and Yuen says he thinks it will only grow.

He's also heartened by how the Strip and Fremont Street have embraced Pride's efforts. The Mirage currently hosts two gay-themed nights, Heaven on Saturdays and Closet Sundays, and the Luxor plans similar events in the future. "And never would I ever expect to see Las Vegas Pride on the Fremont Street canopy," Yuen says. "It's pretty inspiring."

What makes the Vegas Pride planners happiest, Yuen says, is that the week's events truly seem to be reaching those who are struggling with who they are.

"I think it's extremely effective," he says. "People are being reached with these events. And as awareness grows, Pride will grow."

Pride Highlights

Pride (& Prejudice) exhibit: Photo essay documenting Gay Pride parade in St. Petersburg, Florida. April 29, 5-7 p.m., April 30, 7-10 p.m. at 5th Street School, 401 S. 4th St., free, 229-6469.

Pride Parade: April 30, 8 p.m. West Charleston Boulevard, north along Fourth Street to Ogden Avenue. Rebroadcast on Cox Channel 96, May 8, 10, 13, 23, 24, 27 at 8 p.m., free, (866) 930-3336.

Pride Festival: May 1, noon-10 p.m., adults $15, youth $10, 12 and under free. Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway. Entertainers include Wilson Cruz and Frenchie Davis, Fanny Pak, (866) 930-3336.

Heaven Pride Festival Afterparty: May 1, 10:30 p.m. Bare Pool Lounge at the Mirage, 791-7442.

Women's Pool Party: May 2, noon-6 p.m. Luxor, $10, 262-4444.

Sin Sity Sisters Pride Bingo: May 2, 5-7 p.m. at Goodtimes, 1775 E. Tropicana Ave., 373-0445.

Closet Sundays Pride: Closing party May 2, 10 p.m. at Revolution Lounge at Mirage, 693-8300.

Body Rituals: Exhibit of photography by Jean-René Leblanc, exploring identity, gender and sexuality. Tuesday-Saturday through May 12, noon-5 p.m. at Contemporary Arts Center, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., Suite 120, 382-3886.

Confessions of a Mormon Boy: One-man show about a man's trajectory from Eagle Scout boyhood to Manhattan call boy and beyond. April 30, 8 p.m.; May 1, 8:30 p.m.; May 2, 8 p.m.; May 3, 10 p.m. $25. Onyx Theatre, 953 E. Sahara Ave., #16 (Commercial Center), 732-7225.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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