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Las Vegas appears to only be growing in intolerance

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Circle time: Green Valley High students, during a read-through of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later.
Bill Hughes

Hello, rising wave of intolerance, I haven’t seen you in a while. I was tempted to believe that momentarily we had dispatched with the villainization of gay people; because, yawn. I guess I assumed that the onset, in October, of legal partnerships in Nevada somehow elevated the conversation an irreversible smidge. Even Richard Ziser, notable for obsessing on homosexuals, had quieted, having failed to defeat the partnership law and failed in a bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. Had I thought about it, I would have figured Ziser and his people had begun a garden or taken to feeding needy children. But I didn’t think about it. Relative peace settled in.

And then one night after watching a rebroadcast of To Kill A Mockingbird, based on the classic book that I read in public school and which deals with some heavy themes of racial hate crimes and the dangers of assuming others to be bogeymen, I heard that some parents were suing Green Valley High School. They want the school to stop production of The Laramie Project, which depicts the decade-old story of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming man who was beaten to death because he was gay. Their children would have to choose not to participate in drama if they wanted to ignore the existence and plight of gay people, and this would be unfair.

Coincidentally, the parents’ protest happened shortly before the president was set to sign the federal hate crimes bill, which will recognize sexual orientation among minority groups often victimized because of their minority status, a bill which the Review-Journal called “feel-good verbiage.”

Next in the week’s news cycle, Ziser returned to the limelight, introducing a proposed state constitutional amendment to redefine and protect zygote “personhood” in an attempt to make abortions illegal. This, after he’s spent a career objecting to fully grown gay persons enjoying full legal personhood. In fact, Ziser’s appearance on Jon Ralston’s Face to Face last week topped off the wave of intolerance. Of the murder of Matthew Shepard, he said, “They’ve really overblown that.”

He may be drinking from the same well of revisionist history and flippant references to murder, or attempted murder, as the conservative radio talk-show host Heidi Harris and Republican Reid-opponent Sue Lowden, who a news-moment later made light of a 1981 attempt to kill Harry Reid. Reid was then chairman of the Gaming Control Board, and it was reported and verified by police that a wire was attached to his car linking the fuel tank and engine, but Harris, Lowden—and, the next day, Gov. Jim Gibbons—suggested that either it didn’t happen, that it wasn’t a really serious attempt, or that it was super funny.

“Everybody says that maybe there was a rumor, but nobody has been able to verify that actually happened,” Harris said. “I’ve never heard of that either,” said Lowden, laughing. “I heard it was a telephone book in a shoe box,” said Gibbons.

Reid’s wife, Landra, responded the next day in the R-J, saying, “I think pretending that this didn’t happen to us is one thing, but joking about it is something else,” she said. “It wasn’t funny then, and I don’t think it is funny now.”

Nor is it hilarious that Ziser doesn’t respect the personal and social significance of the Shepard murder, nor is it funny that there are parents who teach their kids it’s fine to keep your blinders on and nourish fear and hate. But there is something kind of funny in this most recent rekindling of the once-dependable political motivators of the right.

Political watchers say it may backfire this time around. Routinely in recent years, of course, sending out the far right’s mating call—The gays are coming, the gays are coming!—brings forth panicked political participation. Similarly with the touch-button issue of abortion and, increasingly, with the ribald storytelling of far-right media, think Glenn Beck.

“But times have changed,” says David Damore, UNLV political-science prof. “It’s 10 years behind the times. Gays and abortion are the issues of older generations. These are the issues they made their careers on. But there are a lot bigger issues in the state than this now.”

Damore says the right is already mobilized around anti-Obama sentiments, the health-care debate and budget issues, and that, if anything, floating the age-old emotional touchstones will serve to further motivate opponents.

“This will mobilize the left,” he says.

Perhaps. In any case, I wasn’t missing them.

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