The year ahead: Las Vegas LGBTQ leaders share thoughts and concerns regarding 2019



It’s a new year. And this is the first issue of The Spectrum, Vol. 1, Issue 1. We reached out to over 14 community leaders to see what they think 2019 will bring for the Las Vegas Valley LGBTQ community. Here is what they said:

▼Deborah Armstrong, owner of Pour CoffeeShop
In 2019, I would love to see a more inclusive community. Coming from Denver, I was surprised to see such a lack of communication and sharing between diverse groups here in Las Vegas. What I find is that the old guard (older, white males) seem to think they are the only ones who should be respected because they carved a path for the younger community. It goes both ways. Women and younger groups also carved that path. We walk that path daily.

▼Jamie Lee Sprague-Ballou, senior amie Lee Sprague-Ballou, senior pastor of Mary Magdalene Friends UCC, founder/organizer, Las Vegas CC, founder/organizer, Las Vegas Trans Pride
I believe 2019 will bring our community together as we continue to deal with our current administration. I believe our various organizations will continue to engage with each other so we can bring a united front into our community, as it is the only way we will ever be able to advance ourselves into total acceptance and inclusion within society. As a community we have to also work outside our own walls to show that our compassion and love isn’t just for our own community but for everyone around us. I feel sometimes we tend to segregate ourselves as LGBTQ individuals instead of incorporating ourselves to be in unity with the broader community around us. Maybe it is time to create events where we bring the rest of the community in to our spaces. Perhaps, we need to take the initiative to show the world who we truly are.

▼ Dr.Jerry Cade, UMC director, viral specialty treatment services
For my patients, the most important concern for 2019 is to ensure that we don’t lose the Aff ordable Care Act. Other than Ryan White itself, the ACA has been the single most important piece of legislation for people living with HIV/AIDS. It is one of the few times that I could see tangible results from a government program within the first year. Furthermore, the mandated pieces of the Affordable Care Act – substance-abuse treatment, mental health care, etc. were also important to my patients. First, in an ideal world, I would hope we could expand the ACA to cover everyone. I’ve always found it a bit embarrassing at international meetings to try to explain the fact that the United States is the only developed country that does not guarantee health care for its citizens. Of course, there is no real explanation. This is wrong on our part and it should be fixed.There are still an estimated 44 million people without health insurance and another 38 million people with inadequate health insurance.

The number of uninsured began to go down beginning in 2010 when the ACA began. The number of uninsured individuals went down every year through 2016. But, in the last two years, with the changes that the Republicans in Congress made to the ACA, the number of uninsured individuals has started to rise again.

In addition to expanding the ACA to cover more individuals, there are still services that are important for health care that are not covered or are only nominally covered. To my knowledge, the ACA was first bill to create a mechanism for paying for preventative health care. This should be expanded.

However, in addition to health care, which is obviously the first thing that I think about, there is still a lack of access to social services, which ultimately is a part of health care. Many individuals need assistance in learning about health insurance options, Medicaid or Medicare qualifications and private insurance purchases are often very difficult to understand. Assistance is usually needed to even sign up.

Once enrolled, these same people may not access their own health care if their immediate priorities are food, housing, transportation and employment or public assistance. Targeted case management, if available, would help consumers obtain these required basics for life while basic skills training would teach survival and life management skills, all necessary for independent living.

▼ Alyssa Cortes, Nevada State College student, HRC Rising Program
There are big plans for the local LGBTQ community in Southern Nevada for 2019. The state legislative session is quickly approaching and there is a lot of work to be done in order to rally our community members and allies around our representatives to pass the Equality Act. The Equality Act includes expansive protections for people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity on a federal level. To further Nevada’s impact our supporters must be vocal about their support of the Equality Act and how it would benefit the country. I look forward to getting started!

▼Antioco Carrillo, AFAN executive director
For us, we have a new home, a new beginning and a new way of looking at the challenges and addressing them. Part of the reason we moved (AFAN has moved into a new location at 1830 E. Sahara Ave., Suite 210) is that we needed to prepare for 2019. We consolidated some programs to ensure that we are working the leanest way possible so we can survive as an organization for years to come. I’m not totally worried about the defiunding of some of the programs, but I am concerned about this (presidential) administration questioning the Affordable Care Act and pre-existing conditions, and how that will affect our clients.

▼ Dallas Holmes, senior manager of service operations, EQUAL chair, Caesars Entertainment
Ten years ago, I started my career at Caesars Entertainment. Since then, I have seen the company’s dedication to leading the way in diversity, equity and inclusion as part of its PEOPLE PLANET PLAY corporate social responsibility framework.

Caesars Entertainment has been a proud leader in the local LGBTQ community for decades, creating one of the first employee Business Impact Groups, EQUAL, dedicated to LGBTQ employees and their allies. Caesars Entertainment has been honored to receive a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index for 11 years in a row. Caesars also supports certified LGBTQ suppliers, which demonstrates the commitment Caesars has for diversity, a key pillar of the company’s mission, vision and values.

I have had the distinct honor of serving as a chair of the EQUAL board for the past seven years and can attest to Caesars’ commitment to our local community. In 2019, I look forward to Caesars continuing to support the Southern Nevada LGBTQ community through our continued collaboration with organizations such as The Center, Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN) and the Human Rights Campaign.

Caesars will continue to offer professional development series for our team members, so that they can understand and learn about issues impacting LGBTQ team members, their families and our guests. Starting this month, the company will begin offering domestic partner benefits to all of team members. Caesars will continue to be an industry leader in LGBTQ offerings for our guests, from pool parties to social events, along with ensuring EVERY guest feels comfortable and is treated with respect when visiting our properties. We also look forward to working with other companies in the gaming/hospitality industry to further advance LGBTQ initiatives. Next year looks to be a year of optimism as the local economy continues to grow, and Caesars Entertainment along with it.

As we look into 2019, we are just as optimistic about the Las Vegas LGBTQ community. Together, we are strong, committed and resilient. I look forward to my company’s continued commitment to this great community.

▼Wendy Kraft, Kraft-Sussman Funeral & Cremation Services
We are re-energized following our great successes in Nevada with the 2018 election, I hope we see our community working even harder to make positive change reach even further in our country.

▼Gordon Miles, president, Berkshire HomeServices Nevada Properties, president, National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) Las Vegas chapter, board member, Golden Rainbow.
It’s interesting how the Las Vegas LGBTQ community is changing, both from a local perspective and a visitors’ perspective. The younger generation is not looking for separate clubs and party experiences as much. A lot of visitors just blend into the local night club scene because everyone just hangs out with each other. They don’t see the need for separation.

As our city advances in culture and size, the community is adapting to the opportunities that all people can take advantage of. The political scene will only accept so much change and roll back. You see much more blending of the cultures. I think that is where the future is, mainstream. Being able to survive, prosper and be accepted in all aspects of our growing community and society.

The community continues to become more financially important, as well. We continue to push into homeownership, business ownership and community leaders. We are thinking Las Vegas will continue its march forward in development and job creation. Might not be as fast but it will move forward, we have all of the right ingredients.

▼Joe Oddo Jr., The Center president
I think the LGBTQ community is facing an uphill climb in 2019. Politically, our transgender and gender non-conforming community remains a target by radical conservative groups. It will be the duty of organizations like The Center and the rest of the Southern Nevada community to rally against divisive rhetoric against our family members.

Economically, the LGBTQ community remains stronger than ever. LGBTQ people have some of the highest spending power in the country with an unmatched brand loyalty to corporations that support us and our families. I think that as we move into the future, more companies are going to want the support of our community. We have seen what power we have when we are all united and that is an asset to the economics of the community.

Socially, we need to become a cohesive community. Not just during Pride, not just during events but all year-long. The LGBTQ community is a community of people that have lifted each other during our worst, and we need everyone at the table to keep our community thriving. 2019 is the year for us to bring focus to our community and show that Southern Nevada can be the strongest LGBTQ community in the nation!

▼Sen. David Parks, Nevada State Senator, District 7
I believe 2019 will be a tough year to predict. There will be many LGBTQ issues under consideration –- at the local, state and federal level, including at the U.S. Supreme Court. While I believe gains will be made locally and statewide, setbacks appear evident nationally. At the federal level, I worry that the hard-fought gains made over the last two decades will be gradually stripped away. They include employment protections, transgender rights, religious protections against discrimination and even marriage equality.

▼ Sen. Pat Spearman, Nevada State Senator, District 1
I believe 2019 will bring more challenges related to homophobia, religiosity, health care, education and equality. We have witnessed an increase in overt and abject hate, prejudice and acts of violence against many groups based on physical characteristics and affectional orientation. I believe these challenges have awakened members of community who adopted the “We have already overcome because we have marriage equality” mindset.

The challenges bring a clarion call to continued the struggle toward FULL EQUALITY. We must fl ex our collective power with our voices, our votes and tenacity. We must show up for government meetings from the school board to the state Legislature and every policy-making body in between. We must renew our commitment to fight for equality in every aspect of our lives; and YES our lives depend on tenacious commitment full equality and rights under the law.

▼Uri Vaknin, partner, KRE Capital LLC, Juhl, Ogden, One Las Vegas
It’s an exciting time to be LGBTQ in Las Vegas and Nevada on a political level! We now have two progressive women who support our causes representing our state in the U.S. Senate. We continue to have Dina Titus representing us in the U.S. House of Representatives. And, now we are the first state to have women in the majority of our legislators in our state house in Carson City. We are fortunate to live in an extremely progressive and forward-thinking city. Most of Las Vegas’ largest employers – particularly the casinos – have been on the forefront of equality, inclusion and diversity. They also have been supportive of our community’s organizations and their leaders annually are the recipients of our community awards. What I am most excited about is how the LGBTQ community is transforming our city. We are seeing more and more LGBTQ folks moving into downtown Las Vegas and rejuvenating the historic downtown neighborhoods, and finally creating gayborhoods in neighborhoods like McNeil Estates, Paradise Palms, John S. Park.

These cool, architecturally significant neighborhoods and the reimagining of downtown aren’t just attracting local LGBTQ homebuyers but also folks from other states, particularly California. They now see Las Vegas as a viable place to live due to the amenities downtown now offers, and the sense of community. LGBTQ social media groups have been created in these neighborhoods, which have further engendered a sense of belonging.

It feels like we are growing up as a community. Las Vegas has always been a city where LGBTQ folks come to party, but now we are becoming a city where we want to live and create community.

▼Julio Jimenez-Wenz, Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors communications director.
I’ve been living on and off in Las Vegas since 1997. Times have changed from not having any protection for the LGBTQ community to seeing employment protection and gay marriage become legal. Still, many in our community are afraid of opening up about their orientation as this is an at-work, at-will state where there is no need for an explanation as to why you are being terminated. Finding LGBTQ leaders in Fortune 500 companies in this valley can be difficult. However, I find that we are still making way in the political arena as we had more LGBTQ candidates elected in the midterm elections.

We have come a long way from the 1950s but we must continue to fight for equality, especially in our current climate. Let’s not forget those who will lead us in the future and those who came before us.

▼Russ White, co-publisher, QLife Media, executive director, Lambda Business Association
First, I am delighted to welcome MY my friend Rob (Schlegel, publisher of the Spectrum) back to the LGBT publishing scene. The landscape has changed dramatically over the years, but the purpose of LGBTQ and other niche publications remains the same as they did over 40 years ago. Rob, Garrett (Pattiani) and I have been working behind the scenes to ensure that QLife and Las Vegas Spectrum work cooperatively to serve the Las Vegas LGBTQ Community.

As I look ahead into 2019, one word comes to mind for the LGBTQ community. “Struggle” is not a word that is new to us, but it is a word that will take on more emphasis in the coming months. I am hopeful for the political inroads that we created in the midterm election. Many allies sit atop the political scales that serve Nevada, but their work for the next two years will be met with confrontations, not just across the aisle but around the world. I’m optimistic that we will see more LGBTQ politicians from Nevada over the next decade.

I am happy to see LGBTQ individuals ascend to significant roles with local employers. This results in leadership development and higher wage earners, both which stimulate our economy and lay the foundation for potential political aspirations. However, we also have a high number of LGBTQ employees at the low end of the pay scale performing necessary jobs, but who struggle without the ambition and career pathing that creates economic viability.

The vastly open space for economic opportunity lies in entrepreneurship, especially among millennials. Becoming an LGBTQ entrepreneur and business owner, and supporting LGBTQ-owned businesses and professionals (not just LGBTQ-serving businesses) are two of the greatest economic opportunities for the LGBTQ community. Starting your own business is scary, and a struggle, but it happens every day. This is why Lambda Business Association exists, and why I am so passionate about LGBTQ entrepreneurship – not only for my own business, but to help others succeed.

The Las Vegas LGBTQ social landscape will remain bifurcated for much of 2019. Vegas struggles desperately for a united community, and finally louder voices are being heard on social media. We will start to see the subcommunities within the LGBTQ world strengthen independently over the next few months and slowly weave together to form new bonds of unity as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.