News

Nevada LGBT activists to hold first statewide lobby day

by Zamna Avila
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Mar 19, 2009

As lawmakers across the country continue to debate a variety of LGBT-specific bills, local activists will hold their first official lobbying session in Carson City next month.

More than 20 LGBT activists and their straight allies will take part in Equality Days, a two-day lobbying session that will take place in the state capital on April 21-22. Nevada was one of the first states to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, but activists maintain the opportunity to meet with lawmakers is an achievement.

"(Nevada) is very conservative but things are changing nationally," Candice Nichols, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, said. "It's really a groundbreaking to have an event like this. We've invited the legislature."

The event will include a reception at the Governor's Mansion, breakfast in the legislative chambers, participation in committee meetings, prescheduled appointments with legislators and limited attendance of sessions in both the Assembly and the Senate.

"More than anything, the main purpose is to tell our legislators who we are, our stories as professionals, constituents and families, and that we are a part of all walks of life," Nichols said.

The Standout for Equality campaign organized Equality Days, which arose from the Center in reaction to anti-LGBT legislation across the country.

"The presidential [election] to the passing of Proposition 8 really prompted the LGBT community in Southern Nevada to be more vocal," Nichols said.

"More than anything, the main purpose is to tell our legislators who we are, our stories as professionals, constituents and families, and that we are a part of all walks of life."

In an effort to directly lobby lawmakers, campaign leaders sought permission from the majority leaders of both legislative chambers to designate a day for them to come to Carson City.

"We were fortunate that both majority leaders were of a more progressive mindset," Equality Days chair Denise Duarte said. "Nevada has never had a day at the legislature for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. This is the first time that our community has gone to the legislature, not in defense or to stop someone from further eroding the rights that we have."

Half a dozen LGBT-specific bills are currently before lawmakers. These include Senate Bill 207, a piece of legislation openly gay state Sen. David R. Parks [D-Las Vegas] sponsored that would extend domestic partnerships to same-sex couples. This and other bills must go to committee by April 21, but Parks told EDGE he feels his bill is a good start.

"All of these things are nice to have but I'd rather have meaningful legislature any day and this is a mean to arrive at that goal," he said. "Having somebody who is lesbian, gay or transgender is immensely important but we rely also on the individuals who are very supportive of us. We need to do what we can do to educate our colleagues as to the meaning of the issues that we face."

Log Cabin Republicans, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and other groups plan to participate in Equality Days. And Duarte said she remains optimistic the group will return to Carson City next year.

"I would hope that those (legislators) who understand our issues become more engaged in with our community," she said. "For those who are not as familiar with our community, we hope to introduce ourselves. Eventually, this will lead to more proactive beneficial legislation for our community."

Registration costs start at $25, which includes training materials, session admission and breakfast. Log onto www.thecenterlv.com/standout/equalitydays/index.htm for more information.

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