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Oh, What a Night: Notes from the 2019 Las Vegas Pride Parade

Last night, Las Vegas celebrated both National Coming Out Day and Pride Weekend with a very special night-time parade. What made the night even more special were all the people who showed up. We spoke with two very special guests to the Pride Parade last night about their preferred presidential candidates, and we reflect upon why this weekend truly is something special.

So what exactly are we feeling proud of?
Photo by Andrew Davey

On Thursday, we checked in on the three workplace discrimination cases pending in the U.S. Supreme Court that may (or may not?) decide the future of LGBTQ+ civil rights in America. And while checking on those cases, we also took note of how far our own State of Nevada has advanced on LGBTQ+ equality and how some of the 2020 presidential candidates want to bring the rest of the nation up to speed.

Last night, all of this seemed to converge in Downtown Las Vegas for the annual Las Vegas Pride Parade. Even as LGBTQ+ Nevadans remain vigilant amidst President Donald Trump’s ongoing efforts to roll back progress on civil rights, they nonetheless celebrated all this progress with some very special allies. 

Photo by Andrew Davey

In one grouping, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) became Nevada’s first sitting Governor to participate in a LGBTQ+ Pride event when he and U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D) marched with local activists with the Human Rights Campaign. Then on both sides of Sisolak, Rosen, and Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Chasten Buttigieg (Pete Buttigieg’s spouse), Dr. Jill Biden (Joe Biden’s spouse), and Doug Emhoff (Kamala Harris’ spouse) all marched with their respective supporters alongside other local Democrats.

Due to parade rules, capacity limits, and just plain human limits, we couldn’t catch everything along the parade route. Nevertheless, I persisted in doing the entire parade route and speaking with a few amazing people along the way. Here are a couple of the very best conversations along the parade route, which also happen to be the ones I recorded just for you.

“Senator Warren is a woman with a plan. I remember when the Democratic candidates started to run, she was the only one who had such great organized plans that showed us exactly what she’s wanting to do.” 
RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 Finalist Shea Couleé
Photo by Andrew Davey

If you haven’t been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’ve been missing out on the greatest show on television. And if you haven’t been mesmerized by Shea Couleé’s standout performances on and off the show, then you’ve been missing out on life. Last night, I had the great honor of speaking with the one and only Shea Couleé about why they graced us with their presence at Las Vegas Pride. Simple answer: “Elizabeth [Warren] invited me to come out and show my support, so I had to say yes.” 

So why has Shea Couleé chosen Warren? For Couleé, “Senator Warren is a woman with a plan. I remember when the Democratic candidates started to run, she was the only one who had such great organized plans that showed us exactly what she’s wanting to do.” 

Couleé then shared the story of how Warren connected with the audience at the annual convention for Drag Race fans, and what she did that convinced them to vote for Warren. “The folks at RuPaul’s DragCon extended the invite to all the Democratic candidates to come and get a chance to mingle with all the fans. She was the only one to accept the invite, and she made a really lovely video where she spoke out and named all the trans* women who were murdered this year,” Couleé told me. They continued, “The whole arena was silent. Everyone was really attentive. Those are the qualities, such as compassion, that we look for in a leader.”

Shea Couleé then pointed out, “When you go to Elizabeth Warren’s website, the first names she mentions are Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who were our foremothers of the movement, trans* women of color. I think it’s important that we continue to say their names, we continue to give them a voice.” From there, Couleé made a broader point about America in 2019-20 as they noted, “There are so many of us who are less fortunate. We really need to come together as a community, protect our trans* sisters of color, and make a country that is safer and more inclusive for them.”

“She’s up to the challenge, she’s not afraid to take a risk, and she’s always willing to do what’s right.” 
– California State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), on Kamala Harris

Shortly after our conversation with Shea Couleé, we spoke with another accomplished LGBTQ+ community leader, albeit a leader in a different field. When I first learned of Toni Atkins during my college years, she was the only out LGBTQ+ member of the San Diego City Council. She went on to serve as the first out LGBTQ+ Speaker of the California Assembly, and she’s now the first out LGBTQ+ President Pro Tem of the California State Senate. At Pride last night, I spoke with Atkins about the progress of LGBTQ+ civil rights in the Golden State and why that’s led her to support U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) for president.

As Atkins put it, “The work she’s done in California is solidly in support of our community.” As we pointed out in June, Harris truly was a trailblazer in championing LGBTQ+ civil rights during the dark days when many Democratic politicians thought vague language on “civil unions” was “good enough for the gays”. Atkins concurred on that, and she added, “We’ve never had to educate her on our issues. She just knows. She understands.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

Whether it’s her long-standing support for marriage equality or her early advocacy for people across the gender spectrum, Atkins is confident that fellow Californian Kamala Harris will come through for all LGBTQ+ Americans because of “the courage of her convictions”. Even Harris’ record continues to be debated amongst Democrats, Atkins stressed what she’s seen Harris accomplish as San Francisco District Attorney, then as California Attorney General, and now as California’s U.S. Senator. “I think when you have someone with the courage of their convictions […] and decides to do what’s right, that’s why I like her,” Atkins told me. She continued, “She’s up to the challenge, she’s not afraid to take a risk, and she’s always willing to do what’s right.”

‘Twas a great show of support, but it can’t just be one night of Pride
Photo by Andrew Davey

Of course, Elizabeth Warren (who had a crowd of nearly 400) and Kamala Harris (whose crowd wasn’t quite that huge, but still pretty big) weren’t the only candidates who had a major presence at the parade. I also spotted teams for former Vice President Joe Biden (see above), South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (see above), U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and tech investor Andrew Yang alongside state and local Democratic elected officials, such as Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas), Nevada State Controller Catherine Byrne (D), Nevada State Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) and Assembly Member Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas), and Clark County School District Trustee Linda Cavazos.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Of course, we’ve become accustomed to seeing politicians (especially the ones with [D] next to their names, though I did spot Las Vegas City Council Member Michele Fiore in the parade last night) come to pride parades and other LGBTQ+ community events in recent years to ask for our votes. But again, it wasn’t all that long ago when most politicians in both major parties kept as far away from our community as they could, since we were “too controversial”. And even now, some in our community continue to face extreme discrimination because they’re “too controversial”.

Even as we continue to face challenges to our legal rights and our basic human dignity, we can’t forget where we came from and how far we’ve made it thus far. When pundits talk about how much “we matter”, that also means Nevada LGBTQ+ voters matter. And ultimately, it’s up to all these candidates to make clear to our LGBTQ+ voters that they just don’t see us as convenient photo-op’s, but they also listen to what we have to say and value us as real people.

Photo by Andrew Davey

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