Bruce Vilanch Hosts The Nevada Equality Awards

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Las Vegas Sun
Paula Abdul, David Parks lauded for their LGBTQ advocacy
By Kelcie Grega
Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019

Bruce Vilanch with honoree Paula Abdul
Bruce Vilanch with honoree Paula Abdul

Entertainment icon Paula Abdul remembers the helpless feeling as some of her closest friends died from the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. She also recalls how some of her backup dancers who contracted the virus were too afraid to talk about it.

So, she took action.

Abdul has spent the last few decades bringing attention to HIV/AIDS advocacy and LGBTQ issues, dedicating much of her tour proceeds to HIV/AIDS research.

Abdul was honored for those years of service on Thursday with the Ally Leadership Award at the inaugural Nevada Equality Awards at Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club located inside the Linq Promenade. It was hosted by Silver State Equality, the recently launched LGBTQ civil rights organization.

“I’m glad to be an advocate and an ally and I always continue to be. I consider this community very close to me and very special,” Abdul said.

Abdul was honored alongside Sen. David Parks, who in 2008 became Nevada’s first openly gay lawmaker. It wasn’t until 2012 that Parks would be joined in the Legislature with four other openly gay colleagues in Sens. Pat Spearman and Kelvin Atkinson, and Assemblymen Andrew Martin and James Healey.

“It’s a great honor to be named the recipient of the inaugural award,” Parks said. “I think it follows my career in the Legislature.”

Silver State Equality Director Andre Wade lauded Abdul for using her platform to advocate for the LGBTQ community and HIV/AIDS awareness.

“For someone like Paula Abdul to use her platform to be able to speak up for equality has really been essential for organizations like ours,” Wade said. “With her residency, and being here in Vegas, we thought it was appropriate that we recognize her.”

Including Parks in the inaugural event was also an easy decision, Wade said, as he has been a trailblazing advocate for LGBTQ Nevadans. This past legislative session, Parks sponsored a bill creating a task force to examine Nevada’s statutes on HIV transmission.

During the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, nearly 70 laws were enacted nationwide to criminalize people living with HIV. Since then, health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have pointed out that medications can now achieve an undetectable viral load, meaning no risk of passing the virus on to others.

“He’s done so much for us over the past several decades,” Wade said.

Wade said he hopes the event will grow in the future and honor even more Nevadans for their service in LGBTQ advocacy.

“Oftentimes, it’s advocates and activists who do a lot of the hard work of raising awareness and supporting causes that go unrecognized,” he said. “So as a movement, we like to recognize those who have taken the lead and taken the stand to support those less fortunate.”

One of the event’s hosts, comedian and actor Bruce Vilanch, said Nevada — particularly Las Vegas — has come a long way in its LGBTQ presence. He said he was happy to see the state take the plunge in advocacy.

“These movements didn’t come from all of us wanting to go shopping for Vera Wang wedding gowns,” Vilanch said. “People’s rights were being denied. It was born out of a need to get basic civil rights.”