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Locals celebrate 43rd annual Iowa City Pride Festival

BY EMMA WILLIS | JUNE 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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Colorful smiles lined the streets as the parade came into view. Cheers radiated down Dubuque Street with streams of rainbow flags in the air as onlookers watched the procession dance by.

The parade, coupled with the annual Iowa City Pride Festival, have become synonymous with acceptance and diversity during the community’s celebration of National Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, capped off every June.

This year marked the 43rd festival beginning with a June 10 bar crawl and continuing with events throughout the week, including karaoke, a drag queen dance and a June 14 picnic that100 people turned out for in Upper City Park.

But the biggest crowd came during Saturday’s cornerstone downtown celebration. Iowa City Pride co-chairman David DeGeest estimated that around 2,000 showed up to see nearly 30 parade entrees and proceeding entertainment.

“Iowa City knows how to have fun,” he said.

In its fourth year of a Saturday takeover on the Pedestrian Mall, many gathered to see the different vendors and clubs that have established themselves in the local gay community.

“People like to think they are a part of something bigger,” DeGeest added.

A large row of tables topped with rainbow parasols lined Dubuque Street between Burlington and Washington Streets, with people squeezing in to ensure they could see it all.

Dana Stuehling, the outreach coordinator for Iowa Pride Network, was one of the eager vendors seeking to share her services with the prideful youth of Iowa City.

The Des Moines-based statewide nonprofit group creates and organizes programs and clubs for youth and young adults to help them connect with other LGBT individuals in their communities.

“It’s really amazing when they have an opportunity like this,” she said about the Pride Festival. “That being said, there are still issues.”

According to a 2012 study published by Stonewall, a United Kingdom gay-rights lobbying group, in a survey of 1,600 gay young people, 96 percent of students are victims of  homophobic slurs in the classroom.

Additionally, almost 99 percent of them hear phrases such as “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” in school settings.

For Stuehling, it’s the “smaller, rural towns” that need help. She said the availability of few LGBT resources in their communities makes it harder for those individuals to find the networking opportunity they need.

University of Iowa junior and political science major Quentin Hill said he has suffered this firsthand.

When talking to his high-school counselor before starting at the UI, Hill was told to stay away from joining a college fraternity. He said the counselor was concerned he would face homophobic stigmas.

But despite the initial concern and unknown connections inside the greek system, he joined Delta Lamda Phi, a gay, bisexual, progressive male fraternity that chartered at the UI in the fall of 2011.

“It was very important for me to tap into greek life,” he said.

With hopes to continue to recruit this summer, Hill is eager for the future of the fraternity.

“I never thought I’d be able to have this opportunity,” he said with a smile.

According to the same Stonewall study, the rate of homophobic bullying of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people has decreased ten percent to 65 percent, since 2007.

Pointing to greater support for the LGBT individuals’ right to marriage, DeGeest said 2013 has been a promising year for the community.

“Iowa is a more progressive state,” he said. “It’s on our state motto.”

Iowa City resident Sarah Portugue, agrees.

“No one blinks an eye when we hold hands,” she said while glancing at her partner. “Iowa City is more open-minded.”

Portugue sees the importance in having these types of events across the state, despite Iowa’s role in acceptance of gay rights.

“As a community it is important to not only celebrate American equality but also the family atmosphere we have,” she said.


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