Las Vegas' First Gay Pride Celebration

LV Sun, May 1983

(c) Dennis McBride, 2009

Pride '83

While Gay Pride celebrations commemorating the Stonewall Riots had been going on around the country since 1970, Las Vegas didn’t establish its Gay Pride celebration until 1983. Sponsored by the Gay Academic Union [GAU] of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas [UNLV], the Metropolitan Community Church, and Nevadans for Human Rights, Gay Pride 1983 was a week-long series of events May 6-14 hosted at the university and at various bars around Las Vegas.

The event opened on May 6 with a day of seminars, workshops, and lectures in the Fireside Lounge of the Moyer Student Union at the university, featuring such speakers as UNLV professors Donald Carns and Vern Mattson, activists Gudrun Fonfa and Terry Wilsey, attorney Kevin Kelly, Dr. Walt Herron, and David Goodstein, publisher of theAdvocate who was the keynote speaker at the First Annual Gay Pride Banquet and Awards the following night.[1]

Pride ’83 was Las Vegas’s first high-profile city-wide gay event; GAU cofounder Will Collins and straight activist Christie Young made several appearances on local television and radio programs to promote it.[2] These public appearances raised interesting issues not only about how the Las Vegas media dealt with the "gay thing," but about the Las Vegas gay community's own closeted nature. Will and Christie went on-air because they didn't "look gay," would be "more acceptable in the mass media," and because all the lesbians who belonged to GAU "were just too deep in the closet." People were also surprised Will and Christie were willing to use their own names publicly.[3] (Read eyewitness accounts of Gay Pride in Las Vegas)


The Gay Pride Banquet and Awards drew 200 people, and throughout the following week Las Vegas bars hosted special events to celebrate Gay Pride: on May 9 blues singer Loretta Holloway and renowned impersonator Kenny Kerr gave a show at the Gipsy nightclub, while the Garage, the Backdoor, the Buffalo, and Gelo's all sponsored barbecues, beer busts, and swim parties at Lake Mead. One more event which had been scheduled for May but postponed till June 18 was Las Vegas's first Gay Pride dance held in the ballroom at UNLV's student union.[4]


 
NGT, May 1983

Pride '84

With the success of Gay Pride 1983 behind it, the GAU planned the 1984 celebration in a more formal way through Las Vegas's first Gay Pride organization, the Lambda Pride Coalition [LPC]. GAU founder Will Collins headed Lambda Pride with activist Gudrun Fonfa. Others involved with LPC included Christie Young, Ron Lawrence, Mario Lopez-Gutierrez, Mike Loewy, Ron Guthrie--director of the Las Vegas gay and lesbian choir, Voices--while Terry Wilsey served as the organization's media contact. In October 1983 four LPC members attended the Second Annual Gay Pride Coordinators Conference in San Diego, and brought back to Las Vegas the Pride theme for the next year: "Unity and More in '84." Las Vegas was also chosen to hold the Southwest Region's first Pride Event June 2-9, 1984.[5]

Las Vegas began its 1984 Pride celebration with a lecture on January 19 by Tanya Corman, Director of Field Associates for the Gay Rights National Lobby, sponsored by Nevadans for Human Rights, the ACLU, and the lesbian Rural Nevada NOW. There were fundraisers on January 24 and 25 in which gay singing duo Romanovsky & Phillips made their Las Vegas debut, while the Second Annual Human Rights Seminar at UNLV May 3-6 featured Dr. Evelyn Hooker.[6] (read a1984 eyewitness account of Gay Pride)

Gay Pride 1984 was Las Vegas' first outdoor celebration--financed largely by Will Collins with money he had intended as a down payment on a new house. On Saturday, June 2 the Lambda Pride Coalition sponsored a rally in section F of Sunset Park. LPC media contact Terry Wilsey and his lover, Walt Herron, provided their own silver chafing dishes and tableware for the Pride's buffet table. At eight o'clock that evening the crowd released helium balloons printed with the Pride slogan which carried their message over the hotels and casinos of the Las Vegas Strip.[7]

On June 9, Gay Pride Week ended with the Second Annual Gay Pride Awards and Banquet in UNLV's Moyer Student Union Ballroom. Gary Campbell, openly gay radio personality from Las Vegas' KENO Radio, emceed the event, whose featured speaker was feminist therapist and author Valerie Kirkgaard.[8]

The success of the 1984 Pride event was a great boost to the Las Vegas gay community and to the LPC. There was a sense of forward momentum building in the community, expressed by Las Vegan Adam Michaels in a Desert Gaze editorial.

"Until the last few years the term 'gay pride' was alien to me," Michaels wrote. "For many years society taught me that being homosexual was nothing to be proud of. ... On June 2 I went to the Gay Pride rally at Sunset Park. And almost at once I realized why I was wrong. It was inspirational ... . I listened to speakers talk about coming out, being politically active, being true to oneself. I was impressed by the older people and young children there. It made me feel good—and less alone. ... I am proud to be gay."[9]

LV Sun, May 1983b

Notes

  1. Nevada Gay Times (May 1983), 1; (June 1983), 1, 7, 8; (July 1983), 11; Las Vegas Review-Journal(May 7, 1983), 2C; (May 16, 1983), 6B; Las Vegas Sun (May 7, 1983), 31; McBride journal, May 10 and 11, 1983 [author’s collection]; Christie Young journal, May 6 and 7, 1983 [University of Nevada, Las Vegas Lied Library Special Collections (hereafter noted as UNLVSC), MS #99-7].
  2. Take Ten, April 28, 1983; Day Break, April 30, 1983.
  3. Christie Young, interview by Dennis McBride, October 18, 1998 [UNLVSC transcript HQ76.2 U52 N359 1998]; Young journal, April 25, 28, and 29, 1983 and May 2, 4, and 5, 1983 [UNLVSC MS #99-7].
  4. Nevada Gay Times (June 1983), 1, 7; Will Collins, interview by Dennis McBride, May 4, 1998 [UNLVSC transcript HQ76.2 U52 N33 1998]; Mike Loewy, interview by Dennis McBride, December 14, 1997 [author’s transcript]; Young interview; Young journal, June 4, 10, and 14, 1983 [UNLVSC MS #99-7].
  5. Nevada Gay Times (October 1983), 11; (November 1983), 1; (April 1984), 6; (March 1985), 1, 4; Collins interview; Young interview; Loewy interview; Rick May, interview with Dennis McBride, December 29, 2001 [author’s transcript]; Young journal November 15, 1983 [UNLVSC MS #99-7].
  6. Nevada Gay Times (January 1984), 5, 15; (February 1984), 1; Desert Gaze (February 1984), 4; (April 1984), 6; Young journal, May 4, 5, 1984 [UNLVSC MS #99-7].
  7. Nevada Gay Times (April 1984), 6; (June 1984), 9; (July 1984), 1; Desert Gaze (April 1984, insert); (June 1984), 7; (July 1984), 12; McBride journal, June 5, 1984 [author’s collection]; Collins interview.
  8. Desert Gaze (June 1984), 7; Nevada Gay Times (June 1984), 9; (July 1984), 1; McBride journal, June 12, 1984 [author’s collection].
  9. Desert Gaze (July 1984), 12.
Will Collins
Las Vegas Gay Pride, 1984
Gay Pride Banquet, 1984
Dennis McBride and Ken Matheson, 1984