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How these neon signs tell the history of LGBT performers in Vegas

How these neon signs tell the history of LGBT performers in Vegas
Christine Jorgensen, the first popularly known person to undergo sex reassignment surgery, performed briefly at the onetime Sahara Hotel. (The Neon Museum)

Celebrate LGBT Pride Month in Las Vegas this month with a little neon dazzle. The city's Neon Museum will take you on a tour that recalls Vegas' top gay entertainers through signs at clubs where they once performed.

For example, stop at the El Cortez hotel-casino sign and you'll learn that Lynne Carter took the stage there in 1953. Carter was known for his impersonations of Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman, Mae West and other larger-than-life female performers.

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The neon sign from the Silver Slipper casino.
The neon sign from the Silver Slipper casino. (The Neon Museum)

Ditto for the Flamingo, where in 1970 Jim Bailey impersonated Judy Garland and others, an act that won him the moniker Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year. And the Silver Slipper, a Paradise, Nev., casino that operated from 1950 until 1988, featured a "Boylesque" female impersonation show that opened in 1977.

The Stardust sign at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.
The Stardust sign at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas. (Estee McMahon / AFP / Getty Images)

The tour also singles out a sign from the former Stardust hotel, which in 1987 hosted the first big AIDS benefit in Nevada.

And the Sahara Hotel (now the SLS Hotel & Casino Las Vegas) held this distinction, vegasseven.com says: "Christine Jorgensen, recipient of the world's first widely known, successful sex reassignment operation, was also the first transgender person to play Vegas." That was in 1953 too.

You can tour the Neon Museum and its outdoor Boneyard day or night (signs are illuminated at night). Tickets for guided tours start at $19 per person; reservations with a specific time and date are recommended.

Info: Neon Museum, www.neonmuseum.org, (702) 387-6366

Las Vegas Pride Festival, by the way, is held Oct. 20 to 22.

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