Dennis McBride, director of the Nevada State Museum, is author of a new history of gays in Nevada, described in our feature story on page 11. He is also author of In the Beginning: A History of Boulder City, Nevada, Building Hoover Dam, and Midnight on Arizona Street: The Secret Life of the Boulder Dam Hotel.
What would you like readers to take away from your new book, Out of the Neon Closet?
I’d like readers to understand a little bit better a minority community whose arc of development has been so intriguing and interesting. You could go to jail, you could be fined, to being honored and recognized. On the front page of the Las Vegas Review-Journal today is a wonderful article that Las Vegas is one of the top 10 LGBTQ destinations in the country. When I started writing this book, when I started researching it, a headline like this would have been impossible to imagine.
Do you worry about the consequences for yourself as this book becomes known? You are a public employee, correct?
Yes, but the book has nothing to do with my being a public employee. I do have some concerns that some people I wrote about aren’t going to be very happy, but a story is a story. That’s what happened. It’s just who they are. This is what they said. I’m not really judging. I’m just telling the story. But, yes, I do. I’m not associating myself as director of the Nevada State Museum with Dennis McBride the author of the book, because this is work that I was doing for decades before I became a public employee. And I’ve written many other books about Nevada history. But nonetheless, yes, I do have a concern that it might somehow reflect or affect the museum. … How could I not publish this book?
As an historian, you’ve seen, I’m sure, materials about President Roosevelt’s, President Kennedy’s private lives. Is it difficult to navigate the ethics of those things? In your case, it would have been, Do I have the right to out these men after they’re dead?
Well, yes. The book isn’t written as an exposé, and there were many, many, many other well known people that I could have written about and chose not to. This book is about the development of the gay community, queer community in Nevada. And two people that I write about—Lt. Gov. Fred Alward and Supreme Court Justice [Frank] McNamee—I chose to go ahead and write about them because what happened to them was exactly the example that I needed to show just how far homophobia went at one time in the state of Nevada. It didn’t matter whether you were the most popular and beloved lieutenant governor that the state had or had ever had, as far as I can tell, or how politically powerful you were and your family, as the McNamees were. If you were exposed as being gay, you lost everything. You lost your dignity. You lost your right to a legal trial. You lost your position. You lost your profession. Your life was utterly and completely wrecked. That’s why I chose these and other people. There was nobody that I named without good reason. And there were other people I did not name because there was no good reason to. It didn’t contribute to the story of the development of the community.