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‘We can never rest’ – NV groups speak about rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and, in some states, laws


by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current

Between the rise of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in 2022 and the Supreme Court recently suggesting it could revisit protections for same sex couples, many in the local LGBTQ community are worried what increased attacks and legislations mean for Nevada. 

Though the state has passed numerous protections that gay and trans advocates argue would be difficult to quickly undo, some are still bracing for an uncertain future for LGBTQ rights. 

“Even though Nevada has made tremendous strides in LGBTQ equality over the past two decades and has the most innovative pieces of legislation that passed compared to other states … we can never rest on our laurels,” said Andre Wade, the state director of Silver State Equality. “We always have to be on the offense so we don’t have to be on the defense.” 

The Human Rights Campaign estimates more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in legislatures across the country that prevent transgender children from accessing health care and restrict or ban curriculum and books that mentions LGBTQ people.

Texas also began investigating families for child abuse for connecting their transgender children to gender affirming care.

Sy Bernabei, the executive director of Gender Justice Nevada, said examples of affirming medical care can include therapy. 

“We are talking about sitting and talking to someone about your gender journey and how it feels to identify as a boy or girl or nonbinary,” they said. “We are talking about hormone blockers before they reach puberty, which is something a parent or guardian would have to sign on for. A kid can’t just go to 7-Eleven and get these drugs and take them. And they are reversible.”

Bernabei added that affirming care for children doesn’t include surgery.

Wade called efforts to punish parents hypocritical especially when in Florida Republicans supporting the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which restricts discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms, have pushed the legislation in the name of “parental rights.” 

“In Florida they are touting parental responsibility and rights and wanting parents to make decisions about their children’s education,” Wade said. “However in Texas they are trying to take away rights from parents who are making decisions about their own children and their own children’s well being and encroaching on people’s private lives. So in one sense we want to give parents more control and in another sense the government is taking rights away from parents.” 

With a Democratically controlled Legislature and governor – along with an overwhelming majority Democratic congressional delegation – Nevada has escaped recent legislative efforts targeting gay and transgender people.

Yet the attacks and rhetoric nationally have organizations representing the LGBTQ community worried the state could still be affected, whether it’s by electing more anti-trans and anti-gay lawmakers or embracing anti-LGBTQ sentiments. 

How could the 2022 campaign and election affect Nevada’s LGBTQ community?

There has been an increasing frequency of Republican lawmakers across the country calling gay and trans people “groomers” and falsely accusing the LGBTQ community of trying to “indoctrinate” children. 

“That is a narrative that has been used for decades, that we are a bunch of pedophiles,” Bernabei said. “This is a culture war that has been very effective. This was effective decades ago and now they are coming back to it. They just can’t find an original argument anymore so they keep going through this.” 

Reno residents celebrate the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court Decision on June 26, 2015 outside the Washoe County Courthouse in Reno, Nev. The decision affirmed the right to gay marriage. Image: Emmett Esnard / This Is Reno

Bernabei was also disturbed by the Texas Republican Party platform, which in June deemed homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice.”

“For them to use the same language they were using back in the 70s it just tells you all of these conservatives def want to go back in time,” they said. “They want to go back to a time when bars could be legally raided and people could be arrested for our relationships. It’s really interesting we’re going back to the really harmful language.”

Wade added that nationally there already has been an increased effort by conservatives to use LGBTQ people as a wedge issue and “political fodder” to stir up the base. 

Mirroring the rest of the country, many worry anti-LGBTQ sentiments will likely ramp up in Nevada ahead of the 2022 general election. 

Some candidates have already capitalized on the growing support among the conservative base to mimic anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. 

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who is running as a Republican to unseat Gov. Steve Sisolak, told Nevada Current he’d support a Florida-style “Don’t Say Gay” bill

In April, groups including Silver State Equality and Gender Justice Nevada spoke out against Republican Adam Laxalt, who is running to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, for anti-LGBTQ stances including support of the Florida legislation. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has campaigned for Laxalt ahead of the June primary, and Bernebei expects him or former President Trump to return to Nevada. 

Bernabei said candidates don’t even have to win for their rhetoric to inflict damage on the queer community. 

“Even if (Laxalt) loses the election, when people like that give speeches and embolden the other anti-gay transphobic white supremacist community, then you hear more of it,” they said. “You hear their messaging at the dinner table. You hear it when people go to church. It’s horrible that they are even gathering and messaging and putting that out there. 

Could Nevada see similar legislation?

“It’s hypocritical buffoonery of the highest degree.” 

While concerned about the upcoming election, Brooke Maylath with Transgender Allies Group said that even if anti-LGBTQ lawmakers are elected they would have a hard time passing similar bills in Nevada.

In 2020 Nevada voters approved a ballot measure by more than 60% that amended the state constitution to define marriage between couples regardless of gender.

Over several legislative sessions, lawmakers have passed bills banning conversion therapy, strengthening hate crime laws, getting rid of the gay and trans panic defense, requiring schools to develop policies for gender-diverse students and enhancing employment protections. 

“Those laws would have to be repealed first and in order to do that they would have to deliberately target transgender people,” Maylath said. 

Bernabei said former state Sen. David Parks, the first openly gay man to serve in the Legislature, was Nevada’s “saving grace.”

“He put so much in place to protect our community that cannot be reversed, starting in the 90s,” they said. “He knew to start protecting our community in employment and in education. When you have that in place, it makes it a lot harder to copycat the stuff DeSantis is doing.” 

Bernabei added it is likely some candidates with anti-LGBTQ views will be elected to the legislature and would propose legislation. 

When Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2015 they introduced legislation that required transgender and gender-nonconforming students from using bathrooms of the sex assigned at birth, but the legislation failed

Maylath thinks any new anti-LGBTQ bills brought forward would face lengthy, and potentially costly, legal fights preventing them from being enacted. 

“The extraordinary amount of money that would be wasted by politicians who are constantly screaming about the government wasting dollars on trying to pass a law that will never be able to take effect,” Maylath said. “The cost would be millions of dollars to go through the hearings, go through the time and the effort to be able to get it passed and then the legal fights and fees to try to be able to defend it once it was challenged. It’s hypocritical buffoonery of the highest degree.” 

What effect does anti-LGBTQ rhetoric have on the community?

Organizers agree the state has enacted guardrails that will likely prevent similar anti-LGBTQ legislation from being successful in Nevada, but that doesn’t stop viewpoints from seeping through.

National anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric is creating a dangerous environment for gay and trans people, Bernabei said.

At a recent Pride month celebration in Idaho, police arrested 31 people with a white nationalist group Patriot Front, who were booked on conspiracy to riot. 

Bernabei said rhetoric used by politicians emboldens these groups, and worries future events will be attacked. 

“I feel we can’t be naive and think they don’t want to destroy us,” they said. 

A scene from Pride in the Plaza 2021 in Reno, Nev. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

The arrests have sparked hard conversations within the local queer community about having law enforcement at future Pride events – Pride originated from the Stonewall uprising in which the queer community pushed back against police raids of gay and lesbian bars. 

“We started having a conversation a few weeks ago with Pride organizers about having no cops at Pride,” they said. “I think when you look at other cities like San Francisco and Quebec or Toronto, they don’t allow for uniformed cops at Pride because of the message it sends.”

As groups grappled with the need to have more security, Bernabei didn’t know if organizers could “push to have no cops at Pride right now.”

Maylath also worried what the long term damage legislation, as well as anti-LGBTQ views, will have on gay and trans people and youth in particular, which could lead to an uptick in anxiety, mental health issues and suicidal ideations.

“When will we recognize that these bills are causing actual harm?” Maylath asked. “Politicians continue to double down. At what point do we link them to causing the deaths of vulnerable youth?”

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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