Submitted by Bob Fulkerson
As a gay activist and grandpa who came out in 1987, as I reflect on this year’s pride I’m reminded of Audre Lorde’s quote, “Our childhood wars have aged us, but it is the absence of change which will destroy us.”
In 1988, about 90% of Americans, and maybe even more Nevadans, opposed LGBT equality. Today, that number has shrunk to just 7%, the sharpest and most significant social shift in history. As that queer anthem goes, “Celebrate good times, come on!”
Back in 1993, Las Vegas lesbian activist Judy Corbisero and Senator Lori Lipman-Brown reached out to me, as the openly gay executive director of a grassroots environmental group, for support to repeal the sodomy law.
I could barely utter the word “sodomy” without embarrassment. The political class of the state was also taken aback by it and by the senator’s audacity for raising such a controversial issue as a freshman legislator.
Thanks to her courage, Nevada’s queer community gained our first legislative victory. Nevada’s legislature was the first to repeal a state sodomy statute since the Supreme Court’s 1986 Hardwick decision, which upheld the constitutionality of state sodomy laws. That win came as a result of a broad coalition with the queer community, trial lawyers, low income advocates, women’s advocates, labor and environmentalists.
After that session, we got together and decided to institutionalize the coalition that developed around it, and PLAN (Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada) was formed.
But in 1994, the bigots struck back with violence and political retribution. Senator Brown’s courage in standing up for the queer community cost her her senate seat, in which her opponents also attacked her for being Jewish. We need Lori’s kind of courage today in the legislature, people who will risk their political futures for our communities.
That same year, Lon Mabon brought a pernicious anti-gay initiative from Oregon to Nevada. It garnered TV, radio and print coverage throughout the state, which in turn created an overall climate of anti-gay bigotry. That led to an unprecedented rash of anti-gay hate crimes, including two hate-motivated murders in Reno and one in Las Vegas.
On Aug. 30, Reno newspaper headlines blared “Reno Police warn gay men to be cautious after another apparent hate crime slaying.” Walter Anton, a gay Black man, died of a heart attack after an anti-gay attacker tortured him with a pool cue.
On Sept. 28, in Las Vegas, 30-year old Scott Grundy, a gay white man, was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime. Three anti-gay murders in three months.
Gov. Bob Miller and Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones stepped up against the initiative and anti-gay hatred. Radio personality Eddie Anderson invited them to Reno to speak out and they became the first governor and first mayor to campaign at a queer venue—Bad Dolly’s—a lesbian leather/western bar in Reno—for a rally to fight the initiative.
Because Nevadans from all quarters rose up to beat back the hate, Mabon was sent packing back to Oregon.
Mabon’s fanning the flames of anti-gay hatred sparked an upswing of resistance, including creation of the first Reno Pride Committee and the PLAN-sponsored Community Coalition Against Hate Motivated Violence.
A huge milestone in 1996 was the election of David Parks as the first openly gay person ever elected to the legislature in Nevada. Today we honor David and all other LGBTQ electeds who have stepped up to lead.
When the AIDS crisis hit Nevada, it laid bare racial and class health disparities similar to what the COVID-19 crisis is doing now, where Black, brown and poor get sick and die sooner than those who look like me, born into race and class privilege.
Militant queer organizations like ACT UP demanded action from the federal government and used die-ins and other direct action tactics that shook and reshaped the entire health care system.
The Ryan White Act provided matching funds to states to purchase life-saving drugs. But Nevada was too cheap to apply, and many Nevadans could not afford their medications.
In 1997, PLAN sponsored Legislative AIDS Awareness Day, thanks to Assemblywoman Jan Evans, to draw attention to low income people with AIDS and the need for state funding. People with AIDS and their families sat on the floor of the legislature with their representatives from both parties, and they made sure funding was secured to save their lives.
In 1999, Nevada became the 13th state to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Unfortunately, the bill did not include transgender Nevadans, who would not be added to the statute until 2011.
The following year, the extreme right struck back in the form of an anti-gay marriage amendment to the state constitution. A coalition including Christian fundamentalist, Latter-day Saints and Catholic churches banded together and broke the signature gathering record (and as an aside, likely broke laws separating church and state) and placed the question on the 2000 and 2002 ballots.
This was orchestrated by mainstream conservative operatives to win the White House and curry favor with the extreme Christian right to unite and motivate their base to vote–and to divide liberals. This highly cynical ploy worked, and it passed by a landslide in Nevada and in 38 other states.
In 2009, Gov. Jim Gibbons vetoed the Domestic Partnership bill, which was marriage in everything but name only.
The conservative wing of the queer movement—the white southern NV A-list gays, as I like to call them—wanted us to compromise with a very weak bill that Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, one of the most anti-gay legislators in Nevada, would support. They were convinced we couldn’t beat him.
They were wrong. Thanks to a very strong and broad coalition, the legislature overrode Gibbons’ veto by one vote, and Nevada became the 18th state to pass domestic partnerships.
For the transgender community across America, 2021 has been the worst year in recent history when a record number 33 states have considered anti-transgender legislation.
We should be proud that in Nevada, 10 years ago, three transgender justice bills passed, banning discrimination in housing, jobs and public accommodations.
Many legislators deserve our thanks, but two deserve special recognition. Without the skillful legislative maneuvering of Barbara Buckley, elected in 1994 and rising to become the first woman Speaker of the House, and her energetic wing person Sheila Leslie, who served from 1998-2012, these razor-thin victories would not have been possible.
It seemed like after the legislature passed marriage equality, the paradigm shifted. Elko held its first ever LGBTQ Pride Parade, and Winnemucca will hold its first Pride march this year.
While none of this has ended homophobia or transphobia, all of it is worth celebrating. Check out Dennis McBride’s “Out of the Neon Closet” for a more thorough look at Nevada’s queer history.
What is the next phase of the LGBTQ+ movement in Nevada? We must build real power, the kind queer Black women movement leader visionaries like Alicia Garza, an organizer for 20 years who spent seven years of those two decades building the Black Lives Matter movement, talks about in her new book, “The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart.”
One of its key lessons is there is no quick and easy way to build a movement. She writes, you don’t just add “water, oil and milk to a premixed batter; after 30 minutes in the oven, a movement is baked.” Building movements means building alliances. And that takes time.
Garza says that “every movement I’ve been in has been infected by patriarchy,” echoing my mentor, Urvashi Vaid, who has written extensively about how the LGBT movement is out of touch, silent on the needs of many LGBT people, and avoids race.
“We have invested heavily in making sure that the heterosexist world sees us as no threat to its norms and traditions,” she writes.
Vaid suggests a transformational strategy for our movement is to become accountable to those most in need of support, and to root our work in crucial social justice reform. The next wave of LGBT liberation, then, will link people who share values of sexuality and social justice to each other and allow us to engage in coordinated local and global action.
As queer Nevadans, we are damn lucky to have the Mass Liberation Project Nevada in our state because we have the opportunity to engage and support Black people impacted by systemic racism and injustice, and to build movement. It’s an exciting time so let’s show up fully!
More key LGBT victories Nevada can be proud of
- Allowance for persons to change gender on birth certificates and other vital records.
- Anti-bullying bill passes.
- Nevada adds sexual orientation and gender identity or expression throughout the rest of statutes, alongside race, disability, creed, sex, religion, marital status, domestic partnership status, age.
- Nevada bans conversion therapy.
- Adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the equal protection clause of the Nevada Constitution.
- Repeals so-called gay panic defense.
- The Department of Motor Vehicles and the Office of Vital Records provide a “third gender” designation (known as “X”) on driver’s licenses, birth certificates and state ID cards.
- Nevada becomes first state to constitutionally protect same-sex marriage!
- Nevada becomes the fourth jurisdiction in the U.S. (after California, New York and Pennsylvania) to include sexual orientation and gender identity in its COVID-19 investigation module.
- Nevada repeals archaic bias HIV crimes from the Nevada Penal Code.
- Nevada implements LGBT history into education curriculum.
Please join PLAN in thanking these past and present Nevada LGBTQ organizations for their powerful advocacy and leadership. None of this would have happened without them!
- Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN)
- ACT UP Las Vegas
- A Rainbow Place
- Bohemian Bugle
- Community Counseling Center
- Community Coalition Against Hate Motivated Violence
- Equal Rights Nevada
- Equality Nevada
- Freedom to Marry Nevada
- Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network of Southern Nevada
- Gender Justice Nevada
- Golden Rainbow
- Human Rights Campaign
- Lake Tahoe AIDS Task Force
- Las Vegas Bugle
- Las Vegas Pride
- Las Vegas Transpride
- Las Vegas Lambda Business Association
- Las Vegas Spectrum
- Metropolitan Community Church
- Nevadans for Constitutional Rights
- Nevadans for Human Rights
- Nevada Gay Rodeo Association
- Nevada Gay Times
- Nevada AIDS Foundation
- Nevada Womens Lobby
- Northern Nevada HOPES
- Our Center
- Reno Gay Pride Committee
- Silver State Equality
- The LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada
- The Center
- Transgender Allies Group (TAG)
- Women United of Nevada
Bob Fulkerson is cofounder and development director of PLAN and lead dismantling racism facilitator for Full Circle Strategies.
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