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Equality advocates past and present kick off Nevada Makers

Just inside the entrance to a half-lit ballroom at the The Mirage Wednesday evening, activist Ruby Duncan glided by on a mobility scooter. She stopped for a few quick hellos as she made her way to a table marked “Reserved” near the front of the room, where judge Karen Bennett was already settling in. Nearby, former water czar Pat Mulroy mingled with breast surgeon Souzan El-Eid, who sipped a glass of red wine. Waving hello to Rose McKinney-James, civil rights attorney Kathleen England paused to remark on the crowd’s collective civic heft. When she arrived in Las Vegas in 1978, she recalled, Nevadans had recently voted down ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment by a margin of nearly two-to-one.

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“A lot of women were graduating from law school and moving to cities like Las Vegas for jobs,” she says. “When we got here, we couldn’t believe the way some men would talk to us at work. We’d have to tell them, ‘You can’t do that; we’ll sue you!’”

 The evening, which featured the premiere of documentary series “Makers: Women in Nevada History,” had its share of bad-old-days reminiscing. But the focus was a celebration of the present and rally for the future.

“Gender equality is the foundation of diversity. It doesn't get more basic than men and women,” said MGM head of diversity Phyllis James (pictured) during the event’s opening remarks. “We want to create a company, and have a community and society where women have an equal opportunity with men to achieve quality education, to advance to equal jobs with equal pay without a glass ceiling, to exercise civil rights without discrimination and in general to pursue life, liberty and happiness without confronting artificial and arbitrary barriers.”

Based on the national “Makers” series, which is in its second season on PBS, the local three-part documentary is meant to help people understand the influence women have had in changing the quality of life for all Nevadans, said Joanne Goodwin, who led the academic side of the collaboration — between UNLV’s Women’s Research Institute and Vegas PBS — that produced the project. Besides the films, there are multimedia elements for public use and consumption, added Vegas PBS general manager Tom Axtell.

“A girl reading Nevada history (the way it's written now) doesn't have a lot of female role models,” Axtell said. “This content will be made available to schools, so a child who wants to research an issue will be able to listen to the firsthand narrative reports of the people who made it happen.”

The Nevada “Makers” took more than two years to produce, but comes out just in time to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage in the state. It airs Tuesdays, October 21-November 4, at 10 p.m. on Vegas PBS (Channel 10), immediately following the 9 p.m. showing of the national series. It will also be available for streaming at the station’s website.

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