Neon Museum highlights LGBT individuals' contributions to Las Vegas during Pride Month

During Pride Month in June, the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are highlighted, including at Las Vegas' Neon Museum.

The museum, which has a boneyard of signs throughout Sin City's history, is recognizing during its tours this month LGBT people who made a mark on Las Vegas.

Cynthia Warso, Neon Museum senior manager of education and engagement, said highlighting the LGBT community was important because of the contributions individuals have made to Las Vegas, especially to entertainment.

"We felt that the stories of the signs, the more stories we tell, the texture we can offer, the more meaningful the history is," she said. "We want to remain a powerful collection for this community to learn about itself and we felt that those stories were important to tell. In our not so recent past, there was some shame associated with that."

Dennis McBride, director of Nevada State Museum, compiled information about notable LGBT individuals associated with businesses represented by signs on display in the Neon Boneyard. He also recently wrote a book on LGBT history in Nevada called "Out of the Neon Closet."

The signs relating to LGBT contributions go back to 1938 when the Green Shack bar featured female impersonators, leading the way for performers at the El Cortez in the 1950s and eventually Jim Bailey at the Flamingo and "Boylesque" at the Silver Slipper in the 1970s.

"They raised controversy with people, but I think over time people started to accept the fact that these shows were fun," Warso said. "So many of the performers in the gay community, they don't need to be closeted anymore. We're really, really proud to be able to reveal the contributions that they made."

In 1969, Caesars Palace made the controversial move of showcasing a gay drama called "The Boys in the Band," a big move for a Las Vegas Strip property.

Decades later, Stardust made a potentially game-changing move being a Strip resort that hosted an Aid for AIDS benefit in 1987 -- a time when people didn't want to be associated with the disease.

"There's been a lot of change in town that way. But it's always been here," Warso said. "This history isn't just something we've uncovered, in the sense it's not newly discovered. It's always been here. We just like to reveal it and share it."

The Neon Museum is sharing signs related to LGBT contributions beyond its boneyard. The Red Barn sign has been installed at Fashion Show Mall's plaza. The Red Barn was among the first openly gay bars in Las Vegas and featured drag shows and published one of the earliest gay magazines in Southern Nevada. 

While the Neon Museum is a significant tourist draw, the focus on LGBT contributions may also intrigue locals who may have previously visited the museum.

"We're very proud of all the different ways we can make history available to locals. It's history, it's art, it's design, it's our city," Warso said. "We're world famous. We really want locals to get on board with us."

Day and night tours of the Neon Museum are available. For more information about the Neon Museum, visit its website.

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