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August 20, 2014

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Las Vegas Academy theater cast to receive Youth Activist award

WEEKEND EDITION

August 14 - 15, 2004

What: 10th annual honorarium and fund-raiser

Who: Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: The Palms resort

Cost: $100

Information: 733-9800

The theater students of the Las Vegas Academy prompted rallies for and against gay rights and educated the community and the Clark County School District about gay rights when they put on "The Laramie Project" last spring. Now the cast will be honored by the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada with the organization's Youth Activist award during a gala today.

The center will recognize the cast -- along with other individuals and organizations that have been influential in helping the gay community -- at its 10th annual honorarium at the Palms.

The dinner is the center's biggest fund-raiser of the year, raising money for youth programs, HIV testing and hepatitis A & B vaccinations for the community, according to Bob Bellis, executive director of the center at 953 E. Sahara Ave.

"It's a huge event for us," Bellis said. "It gives people a chance to get together, to raise money for our nonprofit organization and to honor people that have made a difference."

Bellis said students from Las Vegas Academy's drama department made an impact on the entire community in May, with their production of "The Laramie Project," a play about the slaying of a gay college student in Wyoming.

"It's no question that these students should be awarded," Bellis said. "They're being awarded for not only putting on the play, but for having all the controversy around it and then still standing up and doing the play regardless."

A few days before the production was to wrap up, The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., which regularly protests events with gay themes, sent fliers to the Las Vegas Academy, using graphic language to criticize the school. The fliers also announced a planned protest to be held across the street from the school at 7th Street and Bridger Avenue as students were getting off their buses.

More than 250 people, including members of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center, parents, politicians and local church leaders, arrived in front of the school the morning of the Westboro Baptist protest for a counter-protest. More than two dozen police, including some on bicycles and horses, kept the opposing sides separated during the 45-minute demonstration.

"It was great the way everyone came together like that," Bellis said. "Las Vegas isn't exactly famous for community togetherness, but here were all these different people coming together to stand up for this; standing up for the school and the students; standing up and showing support for the gay community."

The demonstration also educated people who think that prejudice against the gay community is "a thing of the past," Bellis said.

"This just went to show that prejudice is still very much there," he said. "It opened a lot of people's eyes, really. That's why they (the cast of the play) are so deserving of the award. That's what these awards are all about."

All of the individuals and organizations to be recognized tonight "have made their own significant differences in the gay community," Bellis said.

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