Robert “Bob” Lee Forbuss was a gay man who made it possible for the Center to move into its large, renovated building on Maryland Parkway in Las Vegas. It is known as the Forbuss Building because of his work.
Bob helped the Center select the building, plan its renovation, and raise money for the work. The renovation groundbreaking was in 2012, five days before Bob died of ALS at age 64, after a two year illness.
Bob was active in AIDS and LGBTQ+ causes in his career as a business executive, government official, and philanthropist. He also was active in youth and cultural charities, including visiting and helping teach students at the newly opened Robert Forbuss Elementary School near the Rhodes Ranch neighborhood.
Bob was born on January 31, 1948 in Las Vegas to parents who worked in the casino and hospitality industry. His parents divorced when he was two years old, and he was raised by his mother and her mother in a small house in the Huntridge neighborhood, within less than a mile of where the Center is located now. During this time, his mother’s family opened a dry-cleaning business within walking distance of their home; and Bob did attend the local Catholic schools, including Bishop Gorman High School. He worked in casinos and the hospitality business during the summers.
Bob obtained a political science degree, at age 22, from California State College, Long Beach, but came back to Las Vegas to work as an EMT technician for an ambulance company, and teach history, government, and debate at Bishop Gorman High School. He was promoted at the ambulance company and became an executive. He ran for and was elected to the Clark County School Board and served there for 8 years. He was named Chairman of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and was a founding board member of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Bob was not publicly gay until relatively late in life. He did publicly support local Las Vegas AIDS organizations, including Aid for AIDS and Golden Rainbow. His last political campaign was for a position as a Regent for the University of Nevada. Bob lost that election to a candidate who campaigned based on opposition to gay marriage. Newspapers reported that Bob’s “only regret in the campaign is that [his opponent’s] ads were negative toward the end. ‘He’s young. He’ll learn,’ Forbuss said.” Two months after Bob’s death, his life was celebrated at The Smith Center in Las Vegas, including speeches by Dr. Jerry Cade, US Senator Harry Reid, Congresswoman Shelly Berkley, former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones, former US Senator Richard Bryan; and a performance by a student choir from Forbuss Elementary School.
Robert L. Forbuss Building at The Center Opens April 5, 2013
At the opening ceremony of the new Center and the Robert L. Forbuss Building on April 5, 2013, Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst shared a moving and emotional speech about LGBTQ+ rights and how The Center will play an integral role in providing a safe community for all in the fight against hate and discrimination.
Below is her speech in full from that momentous day.
I am so proud to be here this evening to celebrate the opening of The Robert L. Forbuss building at the Center. The community has worked tirelessly for a long time to make this center a reality, a place that will be a safe haven for youth seeking to understand their sexuality. A place that will provide information, support, and confidentiality. A place that is embracing, nurturing and supportive.
When I reflect upon the last 20 years, I See how far Las Vegas as a community has come. When I was first elected mayor, there was no LGBT community. They were invisible, as they were mostly in hiding. I am proud of the small role I played in changing that reality.
Astonishingly, I was the first elected official to attend Gay Pride Day, accept an invitation to present to LAMBDA, to act as the first politician chairperson of the Aids Walk and to come out against efforts to ban sodomy in the state of Nevada with a press conference on the steps of City Hall.
As we all know, one voice can incite the voice of many in a chorus, so today we have an LGBT community that is beginning to thrive, to use their voice, to make a difference. We have made huge progress.
Recently, the State of Nevada passed legislation supporting Domestic Partner Benefits; President Obama’s historic endorsement of marriage equality; and his repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Department of Justice opinion clarifying that the criminal provisions of the Violence Against Women Act related to stalking and abuse apply equally to same-sex partners, and the Department of Labor’s issuance clarifying that an employee can take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a same-sex partner’s child, even where the partner does not have a legal or biological relationship to that child.
There have been many more victories and advancements towards equal rights for the LGBT Community but we must remain, ever vigilant, ever on guard. We must remain aware that even with our progress we have a very long way to go.
Today 51% of our LGBT community are not open to their colleagues, 29 states still have laws allowing legal firing of lesbian, gay or bi-sexual persons, and in 34 states it is legal to fire someone solely for being transgender. Over 40% of the transgender population are unemployed and their suicide rate is one of the highest in the nation. The highest percentage of homeless youth are LGBT and sadly, hate crimes largely continue to be against persons in the LGBT community.
I have a few quotes I would like to share:
“Don’t misunderstand, I am not here bashing people who are homosexuals, who are lesbians, who are bisexual, who are transgender. We need to have profound compassion for people who are dealing with the very real issues of sexual dysfunction in their life and sexual identity disorders”
– Michelle Backmon
“If the Supreme Court says that you have a right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue that it does”
– Rick Santorum
“Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings. But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible, murder for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals…and could exhibit even animus toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of animus at issue here…moral disapproval of homosexual conduct”
– Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia on state’s rights to criminalize sodomy laws
And my personal favorite:
“I think gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman.”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger
This is the ignorance that still pervades our country – found in the voices of our elected officials and alleged great minds of our courts.
It is the ignorance that drives the National Defense of Marriage organization and it is still driven, in my opinion, by hate.
Now some manifestations of hate are obvious. The torture and murder of Matthew Shepard for being gay is obviously hate. The shooting of two worshippers at a Hollywood synagogue is obviously hate.
But not all hate is that obvious. And the horrible episodes are sometimes enabled because they are preceded by less obvious forms of hate.
When the Nazi’s took power in the early 1930’s, they didn’t immediately begin murdering Jews. Instead, they created an environment that eventually made the murder of Jews possible. They started by blaming Jews for poverty, hyperinflation, and unemployment, creating ill will that led to more overt forms of persecution, and ultimately murder.
Now listen to this comment that was recently posted on the Las Vegas Review Journal website about President Obama:
“The only reason we hired him was to prove we weren’t racist. And, what did it get us? A slap in the face, and even more outstretched hands looking for the Gravy Train.”
No, the author of this post didn’t advocate murder, and he didn’t use offensive words. And for all we know, he may even be here in this room, genuinely believing he stands up against hate. He may even be a she.
But hate doesn’t only come from bigots, anti-Semites, and misogynists. Hate doesn’t always manifest itself in hate crimes. And hate doesn’t always produce genocide.
On the other hand, homophobia, bigotry, anti-Semitism, genocide, and hate crimes do always start with hate. Sometimes they start with hate that is barely recognizable as such – with something we could call little hates.
In some respects, the little hates are especially insidious – not only because they are easy to slough off, but because they force their targets to change their own behavior and who they are.
I have an employee who for many years was afraid to publicly acknowledge who she loves because she thought it might jeopardize her career. Nobody called her a name or threatened her job, but she lived in fear nonetheless.
There are dozens of other examples. The young Jewish child who is made to feel uncomfortable if he doesn’t want to sing Christmas carols.
The single men and women who don’t run for office because they’re afraid of possible whisper campaigns implying they might be gay.
Little hates have big impacts.
Let’s be clear about something: the way to combat hate is not to limit speech. In fact, free speech is one of the most powerful weapons we have against hate. Free speech allows us to call out hate, counter hate, and hold those who hate accountable.
Using free speech to combat hate is our obligation. And sometimes, that obligation can be harder than we might like.It’s fairly easy to stand up against hate when it’s in the form of a synagogue shooting or the murder of a man whose only defense was being gay.
But what about standing up against hate when one of your friends jokes that he wants to go to a soul food restaurant, but is afraid he might get shot?
What about standing up against hate when the Aunt you love – the one who you confided in as a child – tells you that she doesn’t rent to Mexicans because they’re dishonest?
Most of us will never be called on to stop a hate crime. We won’t be able to demonstrate our courage by hiding a Jew escaping persecution. But that doesn’t mean we have no opportunities to fight hate.
We can fight hate every day, by refusing to let the little hates go unnoticed and unanswered. That’s the commitment every one of us should make.
We’re here tonight because every one of us believes in standing up against hate.
We’re here to support an organization whose sole reason for existence is to combat hate…and that’s exactly what they’ve done and continue to do with the Forbuss Center.
And we are here tonight to celebrate the opening of the Center and honor a man who will be remembered for his fight against hate, his fight against discrimination, his fight for inclusion.
Bob hid the beginning of his life (most eligible bachelor), but he was a voice and advocate for the last 25 years. He believed Las Vegas could be a model city. He built a business, Mercy, that saved lives, and he now names a Center that will save lives.
This is his hope, his vision.
This is his legacy.