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How Has Life Changed For The LGBT Community

Vegas pride parade on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in downtown Las Vegas.
(Bizuayehu Tesfaye/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)

Vegas pride parade on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in downtown Las Vegas.

Nevada’s LGBT citizens have been fighting for equality since statehood was established in the 1800s. 

But significant strides have been made, especially in the last 10 years. In 2014, same-sex marriage was declared legal in Nevada nine months before the U.S. Supreme Court did the same thing for the rest of the country. 

In November, voters will be asked to officially reverse the state’s now-defunct constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage. The ballot resolution is a formality and is expected to pass -- a stark contrast to the majorities that voted for the original amendment ban in 2000 and 2002.

Dennis McBride is a historian who chronicled the changes for the LGBTQ community in his book "Out of the Neon Closet: Queer Community in the Silver State."

He said during the 50s and 60s, when he was growing up in Las Vegas, people could be put in jail for being gay. 

But then things started to change. He said the gay community in Las Vegas had been fighting to change laws for decades. 

"It seemed to happen all at once," McBride said, "It was a tremendous relief." 

Nevada already had anti-discrimination laws on the books, which prevented people from being fired because of their sexual orientation or identification.  

Along with that, anti-sodomy laws had been repealed in 1993. 

"The right to marry and to enjoy all the rights and responsibilities that straight people enjoyed seemed like the very last step forward that we needed to take before we were pretty much equal," McBride said.

He believes that as more people came out of the closet and gay characters became part of mainstream entertainment the general public began to shift their opinion on the LGBTQ community.

And that shift happened rapidly. Polls from 2004 showed that at the time 60 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage and 30 percent supported it. Now, those numbers have reversed with a majority of Americans supporting same-sex marriage.

"I can't think of any historical precedent that public opinion, in the broadest sense, changed that far that fast," McBride said.

Tatiana Lewis is an LGBTQ event organizer and community volunteer. She said she felt those changes personally. She was married to her wife in 2018, which was something that she never thought she would be able to do.

"When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, I was so happy I cried because I could now get married," she said, "Being able to legally marry my wife was the happiest day of my life."

Lewis said she always wanted to get married but never thought she would be able to. 

Beyond same-sex marriage, Lewis said she is seeing progress from the younger generation when it comes to acceptance.

"For the younger generation, on the social issues and transgender rights and intersex rights, I'm just seeing it grow and grow and grow in Nevada," she said, "Having somebody in the government treat us as equals is very important."

Although it is mostly symbolic, Lewis also believes repealing the constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage is important because if federal laws were challenged and overturned - Nevada's same-sex marriage laws would stand.

Andre Wade is the state director for Silver State Equality. He said Nevada has a lot to be proud of when it comes to recognizing and protecting the LGBTQ community.

"There are still a lot of states that are grappling with non-discrimination protections and housing protections but we already tackled that issue years ago," he said.

Wade said when you look at the indexes that compare different states and their treatment of the gay community Nevada does well.

There are some areas that still need work, particularly around the criminal justice system.

"Whenever we're talking about criminal justice reforms and policing, it's really important for us to make sure that sexual orientation and gender identity are woven into these laws and policies and practices and not make assumptions that blanket diversity-inclusion messages are going to take care of some of the more discrete needs ie: protecting transgender folks," he said.  

When it comes to the transgender community, especially transgender women of color, Wade said Nevada has done some work but not enough.

He said more people need to talk about what it means to be transgender and those voices need to be listened to. Plus, the community needs to "make sure that we have more spaces that are safer for people that are transgender so that they can live their lives fully and not be in fear of... violence and harassment."

In addition, Wade said when it comes to data collection on a range of issues the LGBTQ community is invisible. He argues that knowing more details about the population and where those details intersect will help make better policies for everyone. 

Dennis McBride, LGBT historian;  Tatiana Lewis, LGBT event organizer and community volunteer; Andre Wade, state director, Silver State Equality

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.