It's the sex and gambling capital of the world - a place where anything goes, right? Wrong.
As far as I'm concerned, Las Vegas generally has a bogus reputation for being socially liberal, including when it comes to LGBTQ liberties, specifically regarding trans individuals. This widespread belief is likely due to the image of carnal excess and indulgence that our tourism industry and the media pound into the heads of consumers around the country and beyond.
But if you look more carefully (which I personally have done over the five years I've been living here), you will notice that what's perceived as a relaxed attitude toward sex and gender is not what it seems.
Advertising trends offer one way to gauge the local social climate. As an observer, you'll spot hotel and casino billboards that are heavily heterosexually oriented. You'll see ads in print media and on television promoting weekend getaways for couples, offers that are generally represented by a man and a woman in the accompanying promotional image. You'll probably also occasionally catch steamy, hetero male-endorsed girl-on-girl ads.
Or maybe you'll see an ad for a drag show headlining at a casino; drag is about as open-minded and mature as we get when it comes to trans awareness and acceptance at the local cultural level. Some of our most popular queer nightclubs are guilty of this, too, capitalizing on a stereotype that paints a one-dimensional image of the trans community. And the queer media does the same thing, sadly.
When you look still closer at life in Las Vegas, Southern Nevada and Nevada as a whole, you'll realize that trans individuals still lack basic protections as far as anti-discrimination laws are concerned. One of the most glaring examples of this is that there are no laws banning employment discrimination against Nevadans based on their gender identity and expression. We also are wide open targets of discrimination when it comes to public accommodations.
However, there are some signs that the tide might be slowly changing. For starters, our Legislature passed a same-sex domestic partnership law last summer -- not specifically trans-related progress, but a step ahead as far as queer rights in general. To boot, the tourism industry applied some pressure so that the law would pass, albeit the lobbying was a financially-driven move, as far as I could see, with tourism concerned it would lose the business of queer customers.
Also, local activists seem to have a renewed commitment to forging social and political change. For instance, they just recently held Southern Nevada's first transgender health fair, which was deemed a success by organizers and a way of raising awareness regarding the challenges and obstacles trans patients encounter when transitioning to the opposite sex.
But perhaps more notably, activists are currently seeking to enact laws with trans protections. There was an attempt last year to have a bill passed (AB 184) that would have prohibited workplace discrimination based on gender identity and expression, but it died at the Assembly committee level. Also, there were efforts to add a trans-inclusive amendment to a public accommodations bill introduced at the Senate level (SB 207), but it ultimately was enacted with sexual orientation protections only.
Activists are still determined to pass trans-inclusive employment and public accommodations measures, namely when the Legislature convenes for the 2011 session, said Las Vegas-area psychotherapist Jane Heenan, who is helping spearhead the effort. Future goals also include changing the way the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles interprets its existing administrative code so that trans individuals will be able to switch their gender markers on their driver's licenses without sex reassignment surgery. Efforts also are being directed, albeit to a lesser degree, toward change at the county and city levels with regard to protection from discrimination for trans individuals, Heenan said.
Overall, it seems that thanks to Las Vegas, Nevada in general is in an advantaged position to usher in such progressive social changes. People everywhere already expect it of us. Heck, part of the reason why they love Vegas so much is because they perceive it to be very open and free with regard to gender and sexuality. We already have supportive public opinion on our side. I don't know what's been taking us so long to grab the ball and run with it.