Remembering Arlene Cooper and thoughts from other LGBTQ allies

Historically, LGBTQ allies have played an important role in fighting for our rights, here in Las Vegas and nationwide. All of us that work on this publication come from different eras. When trying to explain to a younger colleague what makes a person an ally, a few of us looked back and remembered when people in our community made that difference. These people risked being bullied to help fight for the right of others to be treated as equals. In the end, the best way we could explain it is this:

Remember when you were in grade school and the bullies always picked on the nerds, who were always so busy trying to steer clear of the gang because they did not fi t in. Sometimes, there were schoolyard heroes who would stepped in to stop the bullying. They often would place themselves squarely in the fight because they did not believe people should be treated so wrongly. These kids grew up to be allies, who fi ght for what is right. And, they were the ones who stood beside us to help fi ght for LGBTQ rights. They are still helping us fi ght today, to ensure that all of us are protected, legally, personally and emotionally.

“Ohhh,” the younger associate said. “I get it, now.”

So, here is a small sampling of Las Vegas allies and their stories. It’s only fitting that we start with one who is no longer with us, except where her memory lives on in our hearts.

Arlene Cooper
We start with the beloved Arlene Cooper, who spent more than three decades as a LGBTQ community volunteer. Clair A. Koetitz and Lyndon R. Marquez were her best friends. Before her death in 2018, they sat down with her for a Q&A for Pride magazine and talked about how she became a LGBTQ ally.

It was back in 1998, we were in town from West Texas to celebrate a milestone birthday for Lyndon. We decided to attend some of the parties that were featured on rack cards we found at diff erent locations. Guess who was working the door at one of the events, a sassy redhead.

“You boys are not from around these parts, are you,” she said.

“How can you tell,” we responded.

“By the way you are dressed, who in the hell wears shorts in winter,” she said.

“I am from the South,” I said.

“Let me see your ID, “ she said. “Texas ain’t the South, I’m from the South ̶ Tennessee. You have to spell that before I let you in.”

We witnessed her involvement in people’s lives. And, we were lucky to have firsthand experiences, watching her interact with the many people who stopped by just to catch up, introduce their significant other, child or parent to her. She made such an impact by taking time out of her busy schedule so you could “bend her ear,” cry on her shoulder, celebrate with a little dance, hug or a red velvet cupcake.

Arlene was a huge proponent for us relocating to Las Vegas in 2013 and getting us involved with The Center and the community. We had the honor of being one of her primary caregivers at the end of her life. She is, and will always, be missed by everyone that crossed her path. She had a very positive impact on the community here and everywhere she lived.

There are two quotes from Arlene that define her as an ally to the LGBTQ community:

► On being at the forefront of the AIDS crisis in 1983, “ I promised a friend/ co-worker that I would always support and fi ght for gay rights and somehow stay involved.”

► The Center, “Behind the numbers are individuals, each with their own personal stories: That’s why this matters so much for me.” She lived by those quotes. Due to her volunteerism and personal connections with LGBTQ organizations and Opportunity Village she served as a clearing house moving volunteers and donors in the right direction for a correct fi t with those organizations.

PFLAG Las Vegas President Linda Costa
I became a LGBTQ ally the day my daughter graduated from high school, 24 years ago and she told me she was gay. If I, as a mother of a wonderful gay woman, do not walk by her side and advocate on her behalf, who should? Being part of PFLAG for two decades has enabled me to meet and work with many parents and fantastic people in the LGBTQ community.

Christina Berta Bailey
PGLAG Outreach Coordinator I have always been a person who dislikes seeing segments of the population treated differently because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else that sets them apart in society. So, I believe I have always been an LGBTQ ally.

The fact that I am the mother of a gay son, has made me pay even closer attention to LGBTQ issues. It is important for me to be an ally, because I believe in justice and because, sometimes, I worry that empathy is diminishing.

I don’t want to end up living in an atmosphere where people only care about themselves. And, of course, it is important for me to be an ally because I love my son, his boyfriend and my many LGBTQ friends. I was a member of PFLAGwhen I lived in the Midwest, and one of my fi rst orders of business when I moved here, was to seek out the local PFLAG group and join. PFLAG Las Vegas provides a supportive atmosphere for parents, friends and family and other allies of the LGBTQ community.

We also set up tables at events to educate the public about what we do, we speak at classes to educate when we are invited, we provide a hotline, and a Facebook presence, so people can reach out if they need support or information. We are meeting the second Saturday of the month at 10 a.m., at the University United Methodist Church at 4412 S. Maryland Parkway, across from UNLV.

Anna Clancy PFLAG Member
I Think it is everyone’s responsibility to be an LGBTQ ally. The trans community, in particular, needs our support in this current political climate.Not being an ally means allowing a community to suff er. Straight and cis people must stand up and work to protect the LGBTQ+ community because it is a matter of human rights. I volunteer for political causes and do as much as I can to ensure that trans folks have access to the resources they need, particularly medical care. Additionally, I attend PFLAG where I can help connect other families with trans loved ones to the resources they need.

Ben Bryant PFLAG Member
I don’t suppose there was ever a time I wasn’t an ally. Believing in equal rights for everyone is a fundamental part of who I am. Helping my family and the community is an important part of being human. I volunteer for pro LGBTQIA+ political campaigns when I can.

Beth Frye PFLAG Member
I have always been a support to my gay son on a personal level, loving him unconditionally. I thought that was enough. He had love and support at home but not in the community. He was bullied more that I was aware of.

When we moved to Las Vegas I thought he would fi t in more and be bullied less, still thought love and support at home was enough. But then began to become aware of LGBTQ community. As I focused on the LGBTQ community and all that they have to fight for.

I became more conscious of how much everyone deserves to be EQUAL, HAPPY and RESPECTED. I feel blessed when I see more people in the LGBTQ community to be able to walk hand and hand and not be afraid to love whoever they want.

Ronnie Wayne PFLAG
Member I am an ally to support my son. He came out 20 years ago. My son, Seth, is a meteorologist for the ABC affi liate in Seattle. He is married to Jason, a banker. They live their lives openly in Seattle. That is the way it should be. Love is love. Things have gotten better in the LGBTQ community but we are not there yet. If you do good, you feel good. I have been active in Pflag for many years.

I enjoy being around like-minded people. We need to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness for the common good. Parents of gay children have always wanted their children to have the same rights as straight children, no more no less. By educating parents we strive to achieve this.

Families need to provide a safe haven for their gay children, just like their straight children. We are not “modern” family, just families. I have a 2-year-old granddaughter, and she loves her two uncles. It is important to support the community in every way possible. We attend PRIDE, workshops at UNLV, activities at local libraries and The Center. We have offered small scholarships for LGBTQ UNLV students for books.

Emily Zolten Jillette
I didn’t set out to be an ally. I’ve always been drawn to people who don’t fi t typical expectations. So, if you dye your hair, wear bowling shoes to school, ride a skateboard to school, or date someone your own gender, I’m gonna want to be friends with you.

When I drop my kids off at school, I say the same thing every day, which is the same thing my mother said to me, “Be nice to the weird kids.” And my daughter answers, “I am the weird kid.”

I guess it’s important to me to be counted on. So if someone considers me their ally, I want to fulfi ll that expectation. I want them to feel they are worthy of that. And if it gives them 1 percent more happiness or confi dence in who they are, then we all get a better person in our lives.

I support the LGBTQ community by including everyone in my life. I can’t say I make a specifi c eff ort to include any specifi c type of person. But I know that if you hang out with me, you’re gonna be around kids, Summerlin moms, gay guys, trans friends, lesbians and the occasional drag queen. If you mean, specifi cally, I participate in a lot of events for AFAN. My good friend and Penn’s (Jillette) manager is, Glenn Alai (and I’m pretty sure he’s gay). He is the current president of AFAN and I love being part of anything he does. The AFAN walk, the B&W Ball and the Cabaret are my favorite events of the year.

Chris Giunchigliani Former Clark County Commissioner
I have always stood up for those without a voice since I was a child. As a teacher, in the ‘80s, I had a student who was being abused by his father because he was gay. I intervened. He taught me well. I hired the fi rst gay executive director at my local teachers union. I learned that it’s about your ability and talent not who you love. The LGBTQ community needs allies to expand their voice. If you are isolated your voice is drowned out, so straight allies are needed.

I support the community in many ways from being a member of Stonewall Dems (I was treasurer for the club years ago) to contributing to HRC, monthly. I was honored to receive the HRC Community Ally Award. I walk in the AIDS walk. I go door to door for LGBTQ candidates. I formed Grays Leadership Academy to begin teaching civics, ethics and campaign careers by focusing on reaching out to girls, LGBTQ, communities of color, women and men.

Jan Jones Caesars Executive Vice President, Public Policy & Corporate Responsibility;
Former Las Vegas Mayor Honestly. I can never remember not being an LGBTQ ally. I was the first elected official to address the Lambda Chamber, and to chair both the AIDS Walk and Gay Pride Parade. I don’t care who people love, I only care that they are good people.

Bob Forbuss was my best friend. I think I met Bob through Jerry Cade who “outed” Bob at one of my first fundraisers!

It is important for everyone to be a vocal ally to speak out against hate and discrimination and make our collective voices speak to what is right in our communities. It is also important for young LGBTQ to know they are supported!

I support the community with my voice, with the resources of my company and with my personal resources. This is a passionate belief and an integral part of who I am, and what I stand for! Until we as a society can let people be who they are, we will not truly be the land of the free.

(Editor’s note: Bob Forbus was a widely known Las Vegas businessman, educator and elected offi cial. He formerly owned Mercy Ambulance. He became ill with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, eventually succumbing from it in 2012, Jan Jones was part of a team that took care of him. She proposed naming The LGBTQ Center in his honor. She spearheaded a capital campaign to raise the fi rst $1 million to fund the building in his honor.) US Sen. Jacky Rosen I’m proud to be a strong ally for the LGBTQ community and I am committed to work tirelessly until we reach full equality for all Americans. Rosen a Democrat, was elected from Nevada in 2018.

Kelly Smith Former publisher of QVegas, Owner Social Road Media
When my little brother came out to me 1996, I knew that I could not rest until he had the same rights as my husband and I, even if he said he would never marry. Being raised in the military my little brother and I are very proud of our country but I just didn’t feel like we can be a free country if not every person shares the same rights. My activism over the years has included publishing QVegas magazine for 14 years and proud to be a part of every nonprofit fundraising event and efforts. My greatest joy was co-creating with Bob Bellis, NCOD Street Festival and raising tons of money for The Gay and Lesbian Center and Las Vegas PRIDE when it was needed most. It has been so easy to be an ally because I have been surrounded by the most incredible people who have hearts as big as our needs. It was such a joy to assist the community to grow and fight for rights in Nevada,


Laura Hernandez Executive Administrative Director Gender Justice Nevada Pronouns:

She, Her, Hers I got involved in advocating for sex/gender diverse youth in 2013 when my daughter, Kristina, was struggling with her gender identity. She had been telling to me for a long time that she was a girl, but I didn’t know how to support her. She was suff ering and I knew I needed to find help.

After a lot of searching, I found Jane Heenan, who is a marriage and family therapist, and also the founder of Gender Justice Nevada. We started seeing Jane for therapy, and within a few months, Kristina transitioned. She was 11 years old and in sixth grade, and I had no idea where to begin to address how she would transition in school.

I met with her principal, and I told her: “My child is transgender.” She looked at me like I had two heads. That was the beginning of a long battle with the school and the district.

It took months and countless meetings and phone calls just to get them to call her Kristina and use she/her pronouns in class. They refused to allow her to use the girl’s restroom or locker room, so she would have to run across the campus to the nurse’s offi ce and risk being late every time that she had to use the bathroom.

I could tell you dozens of other stories about the injustices that she’s been forced to endure by the Clark County School District.

It was infuriating to feel so helpless and unable to protect my child from the discrimination, harassment and bullying. I decided to turn my fury into action. We began going to school board meetings and meeting with trustees to push for a policy that would protect sex/gender diverse students.

I felt really scared and alone, and I desperately needed resources like advocacy and support groups, but in 2013 nothing existed in Las Vegas to support parents of sex/gender diverse kids.

Around that time Jane was starting a Gender Justice Nevada support group for youth. I decided to start a support group for the parents so I could share space with other families that were going through the same thing that I was. In the beginning there was only me and one other mom. We would come together every week while our kids were meeting and we would cry on each other’s shoulders. And then other families started to fi nd us, and our little group expanded to fi ve and then 10, and then 20 and then 100!

I was overwhelmed by how much sex/gender diverse students were suffering, and I really felt like I had found my passion in supporting youth and families. By 2015, my volunteer work with GJNV began to take up every spare moment that I had. I felt like there was so much to be done and there really needed to be a person who could do that work full time. I talked with Jane and told them that I felt so passionate about this work, and that I wanted to find a way to do it full time. They hired me on as the Family and Youth Services coordinator, and Jane and I worked together to create the resources that I was so desperately seeking at the beginning of my journey.

In early 2019, I moved into the role of executive director for GJNV. We now have over 150 families that take part in the groups and services that we offer. As a result of our legislative and public policy efforts, we were successful in getting Senate Bill 25 passed in 2017. This law requires all public schools in the state of Nevada to implement a policy to address the rights and needs of persons with diverse gender identities. In August of 2018 after five years and countless meetings, hearings, and public input, the Clark County School School District finally implemented a gender diverse policy to protect sex/gender diverse students.

(Editor’s note: While this ends our “Allies” cover feature, there are many more allies out there that we’ll feature in the future. In addition, the story about Laura Hernandez was cut by 50% due to space limitations. We’ll revisit this family in the future.)

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