Welcome to Intriguing People 2018, our annual celebration of Las Vegas’ cultural trailblazers and social trendsetters. See more from this year’s series here.
Being an African American gay woman as well as a military veteran and an evangelical pastor, Nevada state Senator Pat Spearman has collected a lifetime’s worth of experiences.
She’s been attacked by white supremacists in the South and sexually harassed by her superior officer in the military. Despite serving her country, she spent years hiding her sexual orientation out of fear she would be discharged.
Each story—every single event—she says has helped her in her pursuit for equality.
“All of this has steeled me, and I mean S-T-E-E-L,” she says. “Everything I went through made me stronger and prepared me for what’s to come.”
After years in the Nevada State Legislature, Spearman recently announced her candidacy for Nevada’s Fourth Congressional District, joining the rise of women—particularly women of color—running for elected positions nationwide.
She says her entrance to service goes all the way back to when she was 6 years old and felt called into ministry. “That’s when I preached my first sermon,” she says. “They had to put a box down so I could stand on it to talk.” She became ordained as teenager and has been preaching ever since.
Beyond her role as a pastor, she served 30 years in the military, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. She received her doctorate in business administration and originally thought she’d try to join a school board or city council. However, after noticing that several seemingly progressive bills didn’t pass the Nevada legislature because they lacked the votes, she decided to challenge the incumbent and run for a state senate seat.
“I was raised that if you see something that hasn’t been corrected, the fact that you saw it was because God showed it to you,” she says. “It’s up to you to fix it.”
For as long as she could remember, she has been motivated by factors such as her passion to serve her community and her reluctance to back down from a fight. She remembers one of the first challenges she faced in her newly integrated high school: She refused to let a teacher call her a “negra,” and the principal threatened to expel her.
“I told him to do it,” she says. “I told him I would take my story to the NAACP.”
The principal backed down and simply gave Spearman detention.
Fast-forward years later to joining the military.
Being an African American woman, she always had to be twice as good, if not better. “Women weren’t really welcomed into the Military Police Corp, and certainly not African American women,”she says. “It wasn’t an easy time, but I’m grateful for the lessons it taught me. It taught me about pushing through.”
Spearman currently sees many communities either under attack or simply lacking resources, including other military veterans. In the face of injustice, Spearman says, she launched her campaign because she knows about fighting for what is right no matter the opposition.
“I haven’t backed down before and I’m not backing down now,” she says.