Gay Activists Arrested in Reid Protest on Vegas Strip

Independent Media

AS VEGAS (July 20) -- In a rare incidence of civil disobedience in this destination's tourism corridor, eight activists protesting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's inaction on gay rights legislation were arrested for blocking traffic at one of the Strip's busiest intersections today.

As they were being handcuffed and taken to police cars, the eight continued to chant that the Nevada Democrat had broken several vows to bring theEmployment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to a vote. The act would bar workplace discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"We're being arrested because gay and transgender people in America are being denied their equal rights," shouted Lt. Dan Choi to passers-by as he was led in handcuffs to a spot near the front driveway of the New York-New York Hotel-Casino. "I want you to remember that as you hang out in Las Vegas today."

The protesters were booked on one count each of blocking the roadway and obstructing a police officer, both misdemeanors punishable with a fine. They expected to post $400 bail a piece and be released by dinnertime, a GetEQUAL spokeswoman told AOL News. 

The protest began about 1 p.m. in a grueling 106-degree heat when members of the gay rights group GetEQUAL unfurled a banner reading "REID: PASS ENDA NOW" on a pedestrian walkway that crosses over the Strip and connects the New York-New York to the MGM Grand casinos. Minutes later, other protesters walked into the street and held up a banner that read "REID NO ONE CAN DO MORE" and that spanned four lanes of traffic.

Several motorists became irate, including a limousine driver who got out to scream at protesters, but there was no violence.

"This does not happen very much at all," Las Vegas Metro Police spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said. "The last one I can remember was 15 years ago and, honestly, I can't remember what it was for."

In all, about 20 GetEQUAL activists participated, primarily people from out of state who are in Las Vegas for Netroots Nation, a convention this of liberal bloggers and activists. In addition to those standing on the pedestrian crosswalk and in the street, other protesters chanted and carried signs at the base of the scale model of the Statue of Liberty that stands sentry outside the New York-New York resort.

Reid, Nevada's senior senator, is facing a tough re-election battle against tea party idol Sharron Angle, a Republican who opposes any laws promoting gay civil rights. Reid is scheduled to speak Saturday at Netroots Nation, where GetEQUAL organizer Paul Yandura vowed he will be asked to explain why ENDA has not been brought for a vote.

"This not is about anyone else but Harry Reid and him standing up to the promises that he's already made for the community," Yandura said. "Later today, we're putting up a timeline and showing that for the last year, every month we've been told it was coming up for a vote and then it didn't. It's really not about him and his Republican opponent, it's about him standing up."

Reid spokesman Thomas Brede did not address why the bill has not come up for a vote but provided AOL News with this statement: "Sen. Reid supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and believes that employment decisions should be based only on relevant matters such as performance, ability and conduct in the workplace." 

The fact that such events are unusual for Las Vegas may help explain why police took 20 minutes to arrive and remove protesters. Morgan said her records show the call came in at 1:08 p.m. and bike patrol cops arrived at 1:14 p.m., but eyewitnesses' time-stamped Twitter dispatches and photosshow police did not enter the roadway to deal with the situation until at least 1:25 p.m. 

The lag amused protesters but alarmed local gay activist Chris Miller. 

"My concern is that as a citizen of Las Vegas, what if that was a terrorist in the middle of the street?" Miller said. "Would it have taken them as long to get out here?"

Several of those arrested are veterans of civil disobedience actions. Choi was arrested in March for chaining himself to the White House fence to protest President Barack Obama's failure at the time to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Another activist, Jimmy Gruender, was arrested in a sit-in at Sen. John McCain's office to highlight the military policy.

Today's action focused attention on Nevada, which has a mixed record on gay rights. The state barred same-sex marriage in 2002 but in 2009 created a same-sex domestic partnership registry that bestows all the same state benefits of marriage to gay couples. 

In 1999, Nevada became the 11th state to pass a statewide ENDA law, and most Las Vegas casino companies have had such policies for years. In fact, MGM Resorts International, owner of both the MGM Grand and New York-New York, was the first on the Strip to provide health benefits to the same-sex partners of employees. The company heavily markets the New York-New York hotel as a gay-friendly destination.

Still, the Vegas backdrop was good for publicity, said Michelle Wright, GetEQUAL's liaison between the police and protesters.

"I feel like it was successful because people stopped on the pedestrian crosswalk," she said. "Even if it starts them questioning what is ENDA and gets them to look it up online to find out what the heck happened, then that's a victory."


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