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Far beyond the ceiling

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | JUNE 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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You can tell a lot about the state of a movement by its symbols.

For the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender population, the rainbow flag has been an enduring emblem since the 1970s, when gay-pride demonstrations served as a rare and colorful opportunity for self-expression. In the ’90s, impassioned gay-rights activists sported upside-down pink triangles — a reclaimed symbol once used by the Nazis to identify and persecute homosexuals.

Today in Iowa City, five years after the Varnum v. Brien decision legalized same-sex marriage, the public appearance of gay couples is not an unusual sight; in turn, the rather morose pink triangle has been largely retired, and the rainbow has shed much of its political heat, becoming as festive as a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day.

In response, the annual Iowa City Pride Parade and Festival — taking place at noon Saturday, beginning at College Green Park — has new focus: family.

“When I started, [the Pride Parade] was more of a march and a protest,” said Jewell Amos, the head of the Iowa City Pride organization. “Now it is more of a celebration, especially here in Iowa. We actually get to celebrate openly about [our rights].”

Amos said a personal benefit of marriage equality is being able to officially call her partner her “wife,” with few locals batting an eye. Such simple pleasures are available in Washington, D.C., and only 19 states, 15 of which achieved same-sex marriage rights after Iowa.

“There are a lot of states around us that don’t have [marriage equality] or just got it, and we’ve had ours five years,” Amos said. “We’re making everybody look bad; they’re playing catch-up with little Iowa. That’s a slam to their egos.”

But whatever the trends, Amos and fellow Iowa City Pride executive Jason Zeman said Pride events are necessary in bringing about the cultural change of equality — that is, bringing visibility to the local GLBT population.

“The festival is an opportunity to look across organizations that support the queer community, both profit and nonprofit, and see the open-minded individuals in the community,” said Amos, who was instrumental in getting a declaration passed proclaiming June as Pride Month in Iowa City.

“Anybody can march in it … It makes queer not such a big deal.”

Zeman, owner of Iowa City’s only GLBT-centered nightclub, Studio 13, said this welcoming message is now best packaged in an entertainment-focused, family-friendly event — not unlike Iowa City’s other summer festivals.

“Every Pride is kind of unique and reflects the community it’s in,” he said. “We really want to make it bigger but still balance it with the small town Pride it’s always been.”

Pride Week’s expansion has largely meant teaming up with other GLBT-friendly organizations, performers, and businesses (especially Studio 13) to create programming suited to everyone from the recently out college student to the children of married gay couples.

“If people want to express themselves, this is the first place they’re going to do it,” Zeman said.

The local drag king troupe IC Kings has no trouble expressing the members’ individuality and “shameless disregard for gender norms,” according to the group’s website, making it one of the most popular GLBT-focused performers in the area — and at Pride Week.

Nine drag kings will perform at the Pride Extravaganza at 9:30 p.m. today at Studio 13, 13 S. Linn St., and the IC Kings will also participate in the Pride Parade — an event that King “Julius Fever” dubs as “the most fun you can have legally jaywalking in Iowa City.”

“[Pride] increases visibility and helps reduce damaging stereotypes about what a gay person looks like or the idea the bisexuals don’t exist,” IC Kings member “Johnny Derp” said. “Although Iowa City is already progressive in its views, we get that open acceptance by events such as Pride Week — demonstrating and showing children and adults alike that homosexuality isn’t damaging. It’s simply about love.”

The IC Kings plan to spread the love during its June 27 and 28 guest performance at World Pride in Toronto. The troupe members will raise money for this adventure at Saturday’s Pride Festival by selling shirts and shot glasses.

The Kings will be far from the only entertainers at Pride Fest. Everyone from drag queens to belly dancers to the eastern Iowa GLBT Quire plan to perform at the Pedestrian Mall from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday. This includes the “eclectic” all-female band Orenda, hosted by the Summer of the Arts’ Saturday Night Concert Series in conjunction with Iowa City Pride.

Orenda member Lojo Russo said the group will perform a “smattering of songs,” primarily from the vintage-rock era. Noting that the group was formerly known as the Iowa Women’s Power Band, Russo said Orenda’s six musicians can sympathize with the battles won and still being fought by many attendees of Pride Fest.

“As women artists, we understand what it’s like to be ignored, censured, mocked, belittled, and scorned for being ‘women’ musicians — ‘You play pretty good … for a girl’. Yet we continue to craft our music, hone our message, and perform our songs,” Russo said.

Like the millions of non-Mexicans who celebrate Cinco de Mayo and non-Irish who sport “Kiss Me I’m Irish” T-shirts every March 17, Amos said she hopes the larger Iowa City community will be willing to shoulder both the strife and pride of the GLBT community, if only for a day.

“Pride is an important component of our culture,” said Dawn Barbouroske, who, with wife Jen, has been attending Pride events since 1991. “It still takes courage to stand up for who you are and whom you love.”


Pride Calendar

TODAY
IC Kings Pride Extravaganza, 8:30 p.m., Studio 13, 13 S. Linn

FRIDAY
Pride Picnic in the Park, 5:30 p.m., Upper City Park
Dance and Drag Friday, 10 p.m., Studio 13

SATURDAY
Pride Parade, Noon, College Green Park to South Linn Street (Free food at Studio 13 after)
Pride Festival (entertainment and vendors), noon to 5 p.m., Pedestrian Mall
Huge Drag Show, 9 p.m., Studio 13

JUNE 22
Bingo Sunday, 6 p.m., Studio 13
Sasha Belle’s Drag Race, 10 p.m., Studio 13

Upcoming IC Pride events:
Aug. 8-9 Camping Under the Rainbow at Lake Macbride
Sept. 21 Drag Rodeo at Wildwood, 4919 Dolphin Drive S.E.


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