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New group advocates for LGBTQ civil rights in Nevada

A group that worked behind the scenes at the 2019 Nevada Legislature to pass a bill banning so-called gay and trans panic defenses in criminal cases is officially launching as a statewide organization to advocate for the civil rights of Nevada’s LGBTQ community.

The next target for Silver State Equality: the 2020 presidential election.

André Wade, the state director for the group who previously served as executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, said it will ultimately endorse a candidate. He also wants to register voters, and ensure they cast a ballot and understand the issues critical to the LGBTQ community.

Those efforts will lead into the next state legislative session in 2021. Along the way, Silver State Equality vows to be active in community outreach, hosting events and strengthening relationships with progressive partners.

The group started last year as Wade said he began to assess whether community members were interested in a statewide advocacy effort for LGBTQ causes. The answer, he said, was a “resounding ‘yes.’”

“You just realize that there’s been this appetite for so long,” he said. “Through those conversations, I realized there was a gap and a need.”

At one point, Nevada belonged to a minority of states — perhaps 10 or 11 — that did not have a group whose sole focus was to press LGBTQ matters directly in the state capital, Wade said.

Passing bills in 2019

There have been early successes.

Senate Bill 97 prohibited criminal defendants from arguing that they were provoked by a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Nevada was only the fourth state in the country at the time to ban the so-called gay and trans panic defense.

“It was just this very powerful moment for the state and then for the movement overall,” Wade said.

Senate Bill 284 created an advisory task force to review how rules and regulations in Nevada that criminalize HIV transmission can be modernized.

State Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, an openly gay lawmaker, sponsored the bill and sits on Silver State Equality’s advisory board. In a statement, he criticized prosecuting people living with HIV as “something Nevada simply cannot tolerate in 2019” and promised to work with Silver State Equality and health officials to draft policies more supportive of those with HIV.

Both bills passed with bipartisan support.

“I think ultimately in order to achieve full lived equality, as a movement we can’t just depend on one political party,” said Samuel Garrett-Pate, a spokesman for Equality California, an organization established two decades ago and now helping Silver State Equality find its footing.

“The long-term goal is to have as robust as a team as we can support here in (Nevada),” Garrett-Pate said.

Help from California

For now, Wade is the lone staffer backed by a 10-member board and Equality California, including that organization’s chief federal lobbyist in Washington D.C.

Garrett-Pate said he believed the LGBTQ movement is one of the most supportive, illustrated by how different groups banded together to build on momentum following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which found the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples.

But the battle for equality extends beyond marriage, they say. Wade, who is black and gay, said he envisions the organization to be inclusive because many people in the LGBTQ community are also members of other marginalized groups.

“Unfortunately the work is still needed,” he said. “I sincerely wish in five years we’re not needed but the way things are going in the U.S., that may not be the case.”

Silver State Equality is hosting the Nevada Equality Awards reception and program in Las Vegas on Nov. 6. Visit SilverStateEquality.org/equality-awards for more information.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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