Walking down the dirt pathways of the Neon Museum, each sign tells a story and gives a glimpse of Las Vegas at any given moment.
Dennis McBride, director of the Nevada State Museum, has worked with the Neon Museum to make sure the LGBT community has its contributions told, too.
“It is a real community with a real history like any other community,” he said. “(The community) also had teachers, politicians, bankers and entertainers. There was always influential members in the community. Now it’s time to acknowledge them, record that history and promote it.”
During LGBT Pride month, the Neon Museum is adding information about notable gay entertainers and events.
Guides will share that information while taking tours through the boneyard.
“We are always thrilled to identify a fresh way of looking at the signs and celebrating the underserved histories via the collection,” said Danielle Kelly, executive director of the Neon Museum. “The fact is, the LGBT community has impacted Las Vegas’ story in a substantive way through the years. We felt it was only just to tell their story.”
McBride said that up until the 1970s, Nevada had laws that would have made it difficult to be openly gay.
“People were often entrapped and arrested,” he said. “As a result, many of the performers who were gay were closeted.”
Any of those performers would have had trouble working if people would have known they were gay, he added.
Now, people can hear more about Lynne Carter, an El Cortez performer known for female impersonations of Pearl Bailey, or Jim Bailey, the five-time Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year who was an impersonator at the Flamingo.
Even as early as 1953, Las Vegas was stirring up controversy with transgender performer Christine Jorgensen, who opened in the Congo Room at the Sahara.
In addition to people, other facts compiled feature famous LGBT events such as the Superstar Aid for AIDS Benefit in 1987 at the Stardust.
Overall, the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the valley was uneven, McBride found. For instance, he said in 1969, the show “Boys in the Band” opened at Caesars Palace.
“People were horrified and offended,” McBride said. “It only ran a few days.”
Although many of the entertainers are well-known for their talents, Kelly said it’s worth acknowledging the doors they opened in the LGBT community.
“I don’t think we stopped to think how pivotal some of these figures’ achievements were in helping pave the way for the eventual mainstream acceptance of the LGBT,” she said.
This isn’t the first time the museum has acknowledged other communities.
Kelly said the Neon Museum has added content to celebrate Black History Month and Women’s History Month.
Even beyond Pride Month, she foresees it incorporating some of the information that is used in the June tour.
“The LGBT community’s contributions are impossible to overlook and are illustrated in a concrete way by the signs in our Neon Boneyard,” she said. “They’re part of the overall history of Las Vegas and will certainly figure into many of our tours throughout the year.”
Contact reporter Michael Lyle at email@example.com or 702-387-5201