Dennis McBride was just a teenager in Boulder City when he started collecting. And he never stopped.

He collected material about gay life in Nevada. Over the decades, the material accumulated and accumulated to the point where he’s donated boxes and boxes to the Special Collections Division of the UNLV libraries.

There was a big donation in the 1980s. He helped create the “Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender Archive.” And now he’s donated material he’s collected since then.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

What compelled you to start collecting?

I was a very peculiar teenager. First of all, growing up in Boulder City, things were very repressed. I knew there were a lot of gay people around there, I knew who they were, but we were very isolated.

When I realized, when I was about 17 years old, that maybe I was gay, I had no resources. I had no one to mentor me. I had no one to tell me what the hell is this about.

So, I had to create my own context. I am naturally a historian, naturally a collector and an archivist. So the way that I approached trying to figure out who I am and what I'm supposed to do was by collecting information that I could find where ever I could find it.

How did collecting help you?

Support comes from

It showed me that I wasn't alone, for one thing. It showed me that there was a social context out there and a growing political context. That's how I first learned about transgender people in a two-part article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that was published in 1977.

So, taking that article as a point of departure, I started doing all the research I could gathering all the information I could about transgender. So, that is a significant part of the archive now. But this is stuff I had to go out and literally dig up my self and put together.

This coincided with you coming out to your parents in isolated Boulder City: 

The gay community was always under threat of being raided and arrested. Sheriff Ralph Lamb, who everybody looks at now as an icon, for the gay community he was our Satan. 

He would send people in to raid the bars. They raided the Village Station in 1980. It was a ghastly thing. You had to be careful where you went. People would be reluctant to park in front of a bar for instance because someone could see their license plate. 

How did your parents react when you came out?

My father I think knew quite early that I was gay. He was very, very abusive. My mother when I finally came out to her in the dining room of the Boulder Dam Hotel in 1977 just was stunned. And said, 'I don't believe it!'

Our relationship after that was never the same. That little piece was always gone, because at that moment when I really needed her support I didn't have it. I don't particularly blame her, being raised when she was. 

What is the benefit of collecting?

This archive that I've been building since 1972 includes thousands of photographs. It includes artifacts. It includes oral histories. Everything that creates an entire archive of what it was to be gay then and now. It is the development of the gay community. It gives a very broad and in-depth picture.

You've seen the shift in how the LGBT community is viewed in Las Vegas:

The shift really started in 1993 when our State Legislature, alone among all the other state legislatures, repealed the state's sodomy law. It didn't come because of a lawsuit. It didn't come because a judge handed down a decision and said, 'you have to do this.' The legislature itself overturned it. That was at the end of the worst of the AIDS epidemic. And I think the AIDS epidemic taught the gay community self reliance and the value of working together. So, they took those lessons to the Legislature in 1993 and succeeded in getting that statute overturned.

How much more needs to be done?

Now, they're after the transgender. First, they were after gay people in general... that passed. Then the whole marriage thing happened. You remember all through the early part of this century... these anti-same-gender marriage legislation went on all over the country. It was like a tidal wave. That swept over us and then came to an end finally. 

Dennis McBride outside the Boulder Dam Credit Union, November 2, 2000  He stands beside a 'No on 2' sign. In 2000, Question 2 was the constitutional amendment that restricted marriage to being between one man and one woman. In 2002, voters again approved the amendment putting the restriction into the Nevada State Constitution. In 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the amendments were unconstitutional, allowing for same-gender marriage in Nevada and Idaho.  

Now, it's the transgender turn. These horrible legislations being done all over the country... that's going to pass as well.  

I don't know if that's what it takes really to finally bring everyone into the tent, but, boy -- they sure make you work for it. 

Stand Out For Equality rally at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, November 15, 2008. Left to right: Dennis McBride; Babs Daitch; Dee Atwood

Dennis McBride protesting the Iraq War at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV, January 18, 2003

 

Guests

Dennis McBride, author of the unpublished memoir, "Out of the Neon Closet: Queer Community in the Silver State" and director of the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas

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