The Las Vegas Gaymers LGBTQ video game meetup group provides a fun and inclusive space

The proverbial “safe house” within a video game draws a sigh of relief. It’s a home base where you can take stock of your well-being, regroup with your team, without fear of what lies behind your doors. Las Vegas Gaymers, an LGBTQ video game hangout group, has in many ways become a group for gamers across the Valley.

The group, like so many things in gaming culture, started on Reddit in 2012. Gaymers founder Jade Winsatt posted a photo on the r/Gamers subreddit about being a lonely Gaymer looking for friends, and the queer community reacted.

“Several other people in the area reached out and said, ‘I’m in Las Vegas, why don’t we actually do something?’ And it’s gotten pretty big from there,” said Andrew Jenkins, President of Las Vegas Gaymers. “We have over 1,000 members in the group and on average we see around 15 to 25 people at our in-person events, depending on what we’re doing.”

After Winsatt left the group, Jenkins took over the mantle along with core organizers Mike Chen (creative director), Garr Allen (community coordinator), Tim Avist (vice president), and Anthony Del Rio (events coordinator). These days, Facebook is the most active place for members to interact when they’re not meeting up at West Sahara bar The Phoenix Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros: Ultimate or Magic the Gathering at the Henderson Equality Center.

“I’ve been coming for about two years and I’ve decided to get more involved because I like the environment it creates for the queer community,” says Allen. “There’s a lot of talk about sexualization or hookup culture in other groups, but that’s not the environment that’s being created here. It’s a really good place to make friends.”

Del Rio, who has been with the group since the beginning, agrees. “Of all the groups I’ve floated around in, I stuck with this one because it feels like chosen family,” he says, explaining that the Gaymers have even supported members who were struggling financially during tough times.

Chen, a first-generation Chinese American who moved to Las Vegas five years ago, tried several other groups before discovering the Gaymers. “[The others] felt a little ephemeral,” he says. “I grew up in a lot of small towns and it’s really hard to find communities, especially growing up queer. Not having the ability to develop in your early teens and then trying to live out your early teens and make the friends you want in your adulthood but don’t really know how. … Las Vegas Gaymers was a really good way to do that.”

Through the group, Chen also found a romantic partner in Jenkins, who says he can relate to being a lonely, queer teenager growing up in Salt Lake City. Avist, who organizes the group’s video game tournaments, also found love within the group. It wasn’t on purpose, but they’re grateful it happened.

Stereotypically, gamers tend to be shy and prefer online connections, says Jenkins, but many commit to showing up to events. On average, Gaymers members are in the mid-20s to mid-30s age bracket, with teens as young as 17 attending all-ages events at the HyperX Arena in Luxor, the Meepleville Board Game Cafe, or beyond.

“But while most gaming tournaments are generally younger, I have competitors from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s depending on the game,” says Avist, who provides all of his video game gear for the events. These older gamers have inspired him to even host “retro nights” for which he presents classic games from the 80s on vintage consoles he collects.

And, the Gaymers say, every venue that has hosted their events has shown their support for what they do. Shawn Hunt, co-owner of the Phoenix, is an active member of the group. The bar sponsors prizes for its weekly events, and local chiptune band, the Decaying Tigers, perform often during these.

Gaymers meetings also go beyond gaming, giving members opportunities to get involved with picnics and trips to the rink at the Cosmopolitan.

Currently on the schedule: Video game tournaments every Tuesday at the Phoenix; Board games in Meepleville every first Sunday of the month; and a trading card game meeting every third Sunday at the Henderson Equality Center. And on February 18th, the Gaymers will return to the LVL Up Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center for a Pokéball crafting contest.

The Las Vegas Gaymers celebrated their 10th anniversary last year and Jenkins says it was exciting to watch the group members’ transformation.

“I’ve really come into my own in the last few years,” says Allen. “It’s hard for me to understand that I’m still discovering who I am, but I’ve realized I’m non-binary, I’ve accepted that identity, and that’s partly because of the environment this group created. I really feel more comfortable being myself and expressing myself in a new way.”

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