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As We See It

I’m (not) coming out

Why I won’t attend Gay Pride

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Local performer Frank Marino acts as the Grand Marshal on Friday during the Gay Pride Parade in downtown Las Vegas.
Photo: Leila Navidi

I am what is wrong with the gay community in Vegas. And since this is the season of Gay Pride, I must stand up and say I’m pretty proud of that.

It’s an odd declaration, to be sure. Also, it’s true. I have a great deal of respect for those people who spend so much of their lives “being gay,” but I’ve been there, I’ve done that and now I’m over it. I still care and I follow queer politics as carefully as the next gay, but, to quote Elphaba from Wicked, something has changed within me, something is not the same.

There was a time, as I just mentioned, when it was my whole thing. When I moved to Las Vegas in 1996 with my first long-term partner, we were a super-active couple. We went to every AIDS Walk, we catered tables at the Black and White Party, we volunteered at the Gay Pride Festival. Hell, we even started a monthly gay book group and were the youngest duo to regularly attend a monthly gay couples potluck. Rainbow flags adorned our cars, provocative male photos were prominent in our home and a direct-deposit donation to the Gay & Lesbian Community Center went out every month. We set the alarm to be up in the middle of the night to watch Princess Diana’s funeral live and sobbed through it, burying our faces in the fluffy mane of our white poodle, Ozzy.

Yeah, I know. Super-duper gay.

It wasn’t all so superficial, though. Back then, I founded the Vegas chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and, in 1998, I brought the group’s annual convention to this city at a time when there had never been a major gay organization to convene here. (It took place at the Alexis Park, by the way, because not a single one of the major Vegas casinos would even bid on the business.)

This work continued for years. I personally persuaded Danny Greenspun, chairman of Greenspun Media Group, which owns this publication, to extend health benefits to the same-sex partners of his gay employees. Review-Journal publisher Sherman Frederick never followed suit and now finds me a pill, but I’ve also done two brown-bag lunch presentations to R-J reporters on proper word usage for LGBT matters. I receive usage questions from local writers about once a month even now.

Gay Vegas by Steve Friess

My turning point came shortly after my book, Gay Vegas, was published by Huntington Press. It was mid-2007, I was in my mid-30s and my freelance career was flourishing but required a tremendous amount of constant care and attention. More importantly, I’d become comfortable and secure in my new relationship with Miles and had the budding love handles to prove it.

Gay Vegas was, and remains, the city’s only gay guidebook. To pimp it, I had to give talks and go to gay events, so in the service of the book we rented a table at a Coming Out Day event. I sold some books, and that was cool. But I also watched the people coming and going and realized I had nothing significant in common with them. I felt no kinship.

In my prior life, with my prior spouse, this event would’ve been mandatory. Now all I could think was that going out drinking, flirting and vamping it up was less appealing than dental work. Worse, a few of the people I hadn’t seen in a while pinched my sides to mock my newfound girth, which I found simply shocking because at that point I still wore size-32 jeans. Oh, okay, 34, but that’s not actually fat in any other universe. I didn’t need this kind of judgment.

Not surprisingly, the entire gay “scene” ceased to interest me. I remained interested in gay civil rights and gay media issues, to be sure, but I also I became alienated because I just always ended up with a different take on things.

For instance, in 2007, when New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson angered gays by suggesting that sexuality is a choice, I wrote in the Weekly about how damaging this was for his presidential campaign in this early-caucus state. Richardson tried to make up for it with a meeting of Vegas gay leaders at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center and I was invited to attend, but I was forewarned that I wouldn’t be permitted to write about it. I declined and instead took to my blog to denounce the Center’s decision to host a closed-door meeting. They didn’t like that.

The next time I set foot in the Center was, in fact, last September, when they held a seminar featuring Secretary of State Ross Miller, at which the public could learn the pros and cons of the Nevada domestic partnership registry due to commence on October 1. Miller and a gaggle of lawyers described how registering would make partners liable for one another’s debt and a few other charming “benefits,” so I asked if anyone could identify any specific financial benefit to registering. The lawyers were stumped, the audience erupted in laughter and applauded my question and forum organizers shot me withering glances. (Months later, Miles and I registered because his employer, KVBC, would only provide me health benefits if we did.)

Weeks later, I caught wind that the Vegas media was being invited to cover the first legal domestic partnership at midnight on October 1, 2009. Trouble was, the plan was to have the happy couple—half of which was the publicity director for the monthly QVegas magazine—tie the knot at the Erotic Heritage Museum with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on hand and an Elvis impersonator to officiate. I instantly knew how the media would translate that: “Gay Las Vegans wed by Elvis in sex museum surrounded by drag-queen nuns.” It was a PR disaster in the making, and I pointed that out on my blog. Several gay leaders, including State Sen. David Parks, then intervened and canceled the thing. I took a week of abuse for ruining the couple’s big day.

So I’m not popular among certain Vegas gays, and the feeling’s mutual. I’ve still got my gay cred, to be sure, what with us attending that special preview showing of Dreamgirls so we could have the collector’s edition program, and never missing an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, not to mention our devotion to certain divas. (Miles’ is Queen Latifah, mine is Patti LuPone.) We’ve got a Keith Haring up in the living room, I sobbed happy tears when Scotty proposed to Kevin on Brothers & Sisters, and after my ex kept the white poodle, Miles and I went almost as pink by adopting a pair of Chihuahuas from the pound.

But gay is now just an interest, not my life. Not every gay battle has been won, but I never wanted to be an activist in the first place and on matters I care about related to the media—that gay journalists aren’t harmed by coming out on the job and that non-gay reporters have the tools to tell stories involving gay people with appropriate terminology and sensitivity—we’re in pretty good shape around here.

So I’ll watch from afar as the Gay Pride celebration takes place over the next week. Some gay friends look down on me for not attending, but here’s something just as important to celebrate: I can be so out and so proud that I see no need to take time out of my life to make a show of it. Isn’t that, too, progress?

Follow Steve on Twitter at TheStripPodcast or head to VegasHappensHere.Com for his blog and weekly celeb-interview podcast, The Strip. Email him at SteveFriess@aol.com.
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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