Metropolitan Community Church

Planned Worship Service, 1979

(c) Dennis McBride, 2009

Bringing the MCC to Las Vegas

If there's a single organization more responsible than any other for building the Las Vegas gay community it's the Metropolitan Community Church [MCC]. MCC was founded in Los Angeles by the Rev. Troy Perry in October 1968, and it seems to have been the first gay organization established in Las Vegas. Efforts to found the church in southern Nevada came as early as 1972: an article in the April 1972 issue of Gay Notes from Le Café notes, "Rumor has it that Rev. Perry is going to get that church here in L. V. yet ... ." MCC-Las Vegas was actually founded in 1974 by Clonnie Lambert, a former Baptist minister who had worked as secretary to Troy Perry, and who had worked in Las Vegas during the early 1970s as a bartender at the Red Barn.[1]

MCC-Las Vegas met in a leased building on East St. Lewis Avenue near South 17th Street for a few months.[2] When the lease ran out, the small congregation moved to St. Matthews Episcopal Church at 4709 Nellis Boulevard. But when Clonnie Lambert died of a heart attack in December 1975, the Las Vegas church died with him.

In August 1979, there was a third effort to bring MCC to Las Vegas when two officials from the Los Angeles church came up to see if there were any interest in re-establishing MCC at St. Matthews. There was—but St. Matthew’s Rev. Michael Garrison and his mission council discussed the matter for three months before agreeing to let MCC meet once again in their church.[3]

Review Journal, March 1984

"This concerns a very emotional issue," Garrison said, "and some people are very much opposed to the acknowledgement of homosexuality. I'm ambivalent about it myself. I want to reach out to people whatever their conduct is. That's their way and not my way. We don't feel that by letting them use the church we are condoning homosexuality. They've asked to use the building. Simple. They define their own standards."

On October 7 San Diego MCC worship coordinator Rev. Ron Gee held the first service in St. Matthew's. Six people showed up—enough then to make the effort worthwhile—and two more services were held on December 16 and 23. By March 1980 MCC-Las Vegas had 25 members and offered twice-monthly worship services, social events, "rap sessions," bible study, and personal counseling. Mike Garrison and his wife, Betsy, provided a room in their home for Ron Gee, and MCC gave St. Matthew's $10 a week, which was 10% of MCC's weekly tithe.[4]

Community Bookstore, 1984

Part of the Community

Rev. Gee succeeded in raising MCC’s profile in Las Vegas and bringing attention to the growing gay community. Gee took part in a debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where the discussion centered on whether homosexuality was an illness, a choice, or innate—the university professors claimed it was an illness. Brian Cabell, a newsman who hosted KTNV's public affairs program, Close-Up, taped Ron Gee at an MCC worship service for part of a program about Las Vegas's gay community, which was broadcast on May 3, 1980.[5]

Gay Switchboard Chili Cookoff

MCC-Las Vegas became the city’s de facto LGBT community center. The church sponsored a small group similar to Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays [PFLAG] before PFLAG came to Las Vegas. MCC also facilitated a group for gay couples called Por Amor as well as a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous known as Sober and Gay. The church provided training for the Las Vegas Gay Switchboard which started operations on November 22, 1982, and sponsored quarterly publication of the Las Vegas Gay Guide, the first issue of which appeared in July 1980--the first such guide published for the local gay community. 

In February 1983 Ron Guthrie founded the gay and lesbian chorus Voices in association with MCC. MCC sponsored a softball team, the Rainbow Runners, and on September 4, 1983 the Gay Switchboard began operating Las Vegas's first gay bookstore, known first as the Alternative and later as the Las Vegas Community Bookstore, in space leased from MCC. Among the titles offered for sale were BentThe Joy of Gay Sex and The Joy of Lesbian SexLoving Someone GayReflections of a Rock Lobster, andThe Lord is My Shepard and He Knows I'm Gay.[6]

MCC provided meeting space for such ground-breaking groups as Gay Fathers and Lesbian Mothers (1985); Women United of Nevada (1987); and Nevadans for Constitutional Equality who worked to overturn Nevada's sodomy law in 1993. In addition, MCC was involved very early in the fight against AIDS in Nevada. A representative of MCC was among those who founded Aid for AIDS of Nevada, and in October 1991 the church established a spiritual AIDS ministry with 10 volunteers who visited hospitals and homes of AIDS patients, cleaned apartments and did shopping for those too ill do so themselves.[7]

Maureen Mackey Ordination

Experiencing a Loving God

Through its long history in Las Vegas, MCC has bounced around a number of locations, leasing, renting--or depending upon the kindness of like-minded strangers. It wasn’t until April 2000 that MCC was able to buy half of a strip mall at 1140 Almond Tree Lane and for the first time had its own permanent home. The church held its first services there on June 4, 2000, and the building was dedicated by MCC founder Troy Perry on October 22, 2000 as part of Las Vegas MCC's 21st anniversary celebration (Read an an eyewitness account of the 2000 MCC chapel dedication).[8]

Thriving today, MCC provides a religious context unlike any other gay-friendly religious institution in Las Vegas. Former MCC-Las Vegas Rev. Dr. Maureen Mackey, ordained in 1996, describes that context perfectly:

"I preached a sermon about the movie To Wong Foo, [Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar]," Mackey remembers. "About God as a drag queen, how only a drag queen would really have the sense of color and style to have created this beautiful universe. And after the service a straight man who'd been there because [his] grand daughter used to come, said, 'You know, that's the first time anybody ever talked about the God of my understanding.' Many times, because religions have cut us off, we've thrown the spirituality out with the religious bath water. [MCC] is a church environment pretty much if nothing else than to cancel out the prior bad experiences. People who are bruised and damaged from their encounters with the bureaucratic churches and the[ir] unloving Gods can come in [here and] experience a loving God."[9]

Notes

  1. Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, Gay L. A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2006), 162-65; Steve Hogan and Lee Hudson, eds.,Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia, (New York, NYU: Henry Holt and Company, 1998), 387-88, 638-39; Ellen DeLand, interview by Dennis McBride, January 19-20, 1996 (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Lied Library, Special Collections Department, hereafter noted as UNLS, transcript, HQ75.6 U52 N33 1996); Albert “Bert” Hood, interview by Dennis McBride, June 16, 1998 (UNLS transcript HQ76.2 U52 N34 1998); Troy Perry, letter to the author, March 21, 2007 (author’s collection);Gay Notes from Le Café (April 1972), 2 (UNLS MS 2000-2: Rafaél Navarré Collection); Panorama (March 15, 1974), 36; Michael Chavez, "Reflections of the Growth of a Church” (unpublished typescript, c. October 1997; author’s collection).
  2. Hood interview.
  3. Vegas Gay Times (September 1979), 7; Las Vegas Review-Journal (March 29, 1980), 4A.
  4. Vegas Gay Times (October 1979), 5; (November 1979), 9; (December 1979), 3; (March/April 1980), 3; Chavez.
  5. [Las Vegas] Valley Times (March 7, 1980), 1-2; Vegas Gay Times (May 1980), 1.
  6. Chavez; Nevada Gay Times (January 1983), 3, 4-5, 7; (March 1983), 4; (September 1983), 11; Desert Gaze (December 1983), 10; Nevada Social Service Center Phase 2 Proposal (1983); Christie Young journals, 1983 (February 13, 15, and 22; March 15 and 29; July 24 and 26; October 4 [UNLS MS 99-7: Christie Young Papers]; Michael Chavez, letter to Will Collins, October 18, 1983 (author’s collection); Christie Young, interview by Dennis McBride, October 18, 1998 (UNLS transcript HQ76.2 U52 N359 1998)
  7. Nevada Gay Times (April 1984), 11 and insert; (August 1985), 3; (October 1985), 4; Bohemian Bugle(August 1988), 6, 15; Las Vegas Bugle (October 1991), 37; (November 1991), 10; (March 1992), 21.
  8. Las Vegas Bugle (May 26, 2000), 5, 23; (September 1, 2000), 9; (September 29, 2000), 18-20, 31; (October 13, 2000), cover and 34-35; Las Vegas Breeze (June 2, 2000), 24; Lesbian Voice (November 2000), 13.
  9. Rev. Dr. Maureen Mackey, interview by Dennis McBride, January 10, 1998 (UNLS transcript HQ75.6 U52 N36 1998).