Nevada gay rights group delves into politics in its push for equality

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Christopher DeVargas

Andre Wade, director of Silver State Equality, sits down with the Las Vegas Sun to discuss the newly formed Nevada organization and how it looks to address LGBT policy issues, Tuesday Aug. 27, 2019.

Sat, Aug 31, 2019 (2 a.m.)

Civil rights leaders often celebrate Nevada for leading the way in LGBTQ acceptance and equality, given the state’s high marks on the Human Rights Campaign’s State Equality Index and its relatively large share of the nation’s LGBTQ population.

But these same leaders will also tell you that there is still much work to be done and that the idea that the fight for LGBTQ rights ended with same-sex marriage is wrong. It’s only the beginning.

Silver State Equality, which was launched late last year, aims to ensure equality for every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individual nationwide by helping to elect pro-equality candidates in both Carson City and Washington, D.C. The Nevada-based organization is backed by Equality California and Equality California Institute, the largest LGBTQ rights group in the United States.

“I think this current administration and political climate scares me as it scares a lot of folks in our community, but we are hopeful we will be able to engage our community and our allies to be able to get a pro-equality president elected,” Silver State Equality Director Andre Wade said.

The native Las Vegan previously served as executive director at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada. He said that what sets Silver State Equality apart from The Center is its focus on policy change and electing candidates who help the overall health and well-being of LGBTQ Nevadans, as opposed to the direct services offered at The Center.

“We want Nevada to lead the rest of the country as we build a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ people,” Wade said. “And with the 2020 election — perhaps the most consequential in our lifetime — right around the corner, we’re ready to get to work.”

This past legislative session, Silver State Equality helped Nevada become the fourth state to ban the gay and trans “panic defense,” which has been used in the past by those who commit violence against LGBTQ individuals. The argument is that the attacker felt threatened because of the victim’s sexual or gender identity.

“It’s another example of how Nevada is leading the charge nationwide,” Wade said.

Although not a free-standing defense, it was often used in conjunction with self-defense or provocation. Defendants who use this defense claim that discovery of an individual’s gender or sexual orientation following a sexual advance would put them in a state of “temporary insanity.”

“It’s not just a matter of excusing hate crimes, but weaponizing LGBTQ Nevadans’ sexual orientation or gender identity against them,” said Sam Garrett-Pate, communications director at Silver State Equality. “What is being seen nationwide is not just a move to ban hate crimes but to make sure we’re not letting people get away with hate crimes by blaming the crime on the victim.”

The organization also advocated for the passage of Senate Bill 284, which creates a task force to examine Nevada’s statutes on the criminalization of HIV transmission.

In the late 1980s, at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, nearly 70 laws were enacted nationwide to criminalize people living with HIV. Since then, organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that those on medications that achieve an undetectable viral load have no risk of passing the virus on to others. Laws on the books do not reflect these advancements, however. The task force is meant to take a look at these laws and make recommendations for changes in 2021.

“HIV is really the only communicable disease where we have criminalized transmission,” Garrett-Pate said. “It discourages people from seeking treatment or disclosing their status because they fear facing criminal prosecution.”

Beyond the stigma surrounding HIV, Wade said there are still disparities in health care that exist for LGBTQ patients.

“Transgender people and lesbians are the two communities that have access to health care the least, because of lack of competency of medical providers,” Wade said.

Last spring, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule that would expand health care workers’ ability to refuse services to LGBTQ patients, on religious grounds.

Despite what is happening nationally, Garrett-Pate said Silver State Equality aims to dismantle these disparities by taking an intersectional approach to the issue, ensuring no community gets left out.

“If you look at every measure of health and well-being, the LGBTQ community ranks near the bottom,” he said. “If you layer on another identity … people of color, immigrants, especially trans people of color, they rank at the bottom of our community. Until we make sure every LGBTQ Nevadan enjoys full-lived equality, there’s work to be done.”

Silver State Equality will host its inaugural Nevada Equality Awards reception Wednesday, Nov. 6. For more information, visit here.

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