LGBTQ groups denounce Laxalt amid growing animosity, attacks on rights

Activists warn of ‘a movement festering that is determined to drive us backward’

By: - April 12, 2022 6:09 am

Andre Wade of Silver State Equality speaks during a press conference in Las Vegas Monday. (Photo: Mona Shield Payne, Silver State Equality)

Fearing the rise of legislation targeting transgender and gay people and worried about increased false accusations of grooming and indoctrination, members of the gay and trans community denounced Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt for a long history of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.   

Members of Silver State Equality, Gender Justice Nevada and the Human Rights Campaign, all organizations fighting for increased protections and rights, gathered Monday at the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada to denounce the Republican candidate’s campaign trail positions. 

Andre Wade, the state director for Silver State Equality, said while Nevada has made progress for gay and trans rights, he warned “there is a movement festering that is determined to drive us backward.”

Nevadans, he hoped, will reject it. 

“We will not let Nevada to succumb to the hateful discriminatory desires of Adam Laxalt,” he said. “Nevada will not become a domino in the extreme right strategy to curtail, eliminate our civil rights for not only LGBTQ+ people but women, people of color and others who have fought for social justice.” 

Laxalt’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Monday’s press conference comes as states across the nation have seen a rise in legislation restricting trans health care, prohibiting youth from playing sports and banning literature and inclusive teaching that acknowledges gender identity and sexual orientation.

An estimated 238 bills targeting the rights of LGBTQ people, specifically trans youth, have been introduced this year, Wade said.

“We’ve seen state by state – Florida, Texas, Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, just to name a few – fall under the influence of those who are using LGBTQ+ people as political wedge issues,” Wade said. “There is even talk of vilifying parents who support their children by giving them gender affirming care.”

Wade was referring to Texas, which recently began investigating families for child abuse if they provide their children with gender -affirming care.

Sy Bernabei, the executive director of Gender Justice Nevada, said what protections exist for gay and trans youth are about offering affirming spaces to thrive and have “nothing to do with recruitment.”

“We do not recruit,” Bernabei said. “That narrative is dangerous and simply false. In the last couple months, I’ve been called a predator and a groomer for simply listening to and validating these kids. It has nothing to do with recruitment.” 

Monday’s press conference honed in on recent quotes from Laxalt supporting a Florida law deemed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that prohibits discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms in kindergarten through third grade, despite the Florida Department of Education assurances that neither subject is included in K-3 curricula.

Language that mirrors the Florida bill has popped up in several states. 

While the legislation allows for discussions to be “age-appropriate” in higher grades, the vague language in the bill has raised concerns it could prevent meaningful discussions from transpiring in the classroom and harm LGBTQ youth by intensifying stigmas.

The legislation also complicates what teachers can and can’t say if students ask about classmates who have gay or trans parents. 

“When my kids went to kindergarten, one of their friends asked them why they had two moms and if they were gay. They were five,” Bernabai said. “So we had to talk about different kinds of families and what being gay meant.”

During an interview with the right wing website Breitbart News in March, Laxalt praised Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for signing the legislation. 

The Breitbart host set up his questions about the Florida law by asking Laxalt about the recent confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and accusing her of “going soft on child predators,” echoing what has become a common campaign theme on the right of linking pedophilia with LGBTQ rights.

The interview tried to connect Jackson’s confirmation with those opposed to Florida’s law by alleging there is a concerted effort to “sexualize young children.”

Laxalt, who earlier in the podcast repeated debunked claims about Jackson being lenient on those sentenced for child sexual abuse, repeatedly accused groups opposed to Florida’s law of wanting to indoctrinate children.

I mean, why in the world are they fighting so hard for the ability to indoctrinate kids from age, kindergarten to third grade,” Laxalt said, warping the position of the legislation’s opponents. 

While speakers Monday praised Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who Laxalt is running to unseat, for supporting LGBTQ protections, Wade said groups need to do more than just support candidates. 

“It is equally important to not just voice our opposition to those political candidates who are determined to rob us of our civil rights,” he said, “we must condemn their hateful speech, denounce their vile attacks and make every effort to call out disinformation that infiltrates our social discourse.” 

Speakers noted Laxalt comments aren’t a one-off situation, and Wade said Laxalt “has made hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ activism a cornerstone of his political career.”

Ahead of the 2014 midterm election, Laxalt, then a candidate for Nevada attorney general, said he was opposed to same-sex marriage and promised to fight to uphold a state constitutional ban that was then in effect.

“He opposed marriage equality vowing to vigorously defend Nevada’s now defunct marriage ban,” Wade said. “He supported banning LGBTQ+ people from serving openly in the military. And he opposed protections for youth facing discrimination in schools.” 

As attorney general, Laxalt also signed Nevada onto an amicus brief in 2017 supporting a florist who declined to provide an arrangement for a same-sex wedding because of religious beliefs. 

Additionally, he applauded a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, where a baker refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The court ruled the baker didn’t get a fair hearing in front of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.    

“We cannot and we will not let men like Adam Laxalt, Ron DeSantis, and (Texas Gov.) Greg Abbot continue to attack our children and our community,” Wade said.

Bernadei said the recent attacks aren’t new and the LGBTQ community has often faced animosity.  

“I lived through and saw our community be stigmatized and attacked during the AIDS crisis,” they said. “I’ve seen ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ overturned, fought Prop 8 and seen marriage equality give us the right to be legally wedded to the people we love.”

Bernabei said in every situation, groups opposed to LGBTQ protections “kept saying that this would destroy society and this will tear up the institution of traditional marriage. That didn’t happen.” 

Brian Martin, a member of the Board of Governors for the Human Rights Campaign, said Laxalt is part of a national movement that “wants to turn the LGBTQ+ community back into second class citizens.”

With that in mind, he said the upcoming election is all the more important to ensure trans and gay rights are protected.  

“(Laxalt) has and will continue to use any power he’s given to turn back the clock on our rights,” Martin said. “The only way to shut down bullies like Adam Laxalt is to fully and completely reject him. That’s what Nevada must do and we will in November.” 

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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