Embracing Pride

BY DI STAFF | JUNE 18, 2015 5:00 AM

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Early on the morning of June 28, 1969, a small New York City gay bar was the epicenter of the start of a cultural revolution. Police violently raided the Stonewall Inn under murky intentions, not for the first time — but on this fateful morning, the patrons and the community fought back. Over the next several days, protests grew into riots, and rioters became activists. And over the next several decades following Stonewall, the modern LGBT-rights movement was born.

Iowa City’s Pride Week festival, founded a mere year after the Stonewall riots, is one of America’s oldest pride festivals. This week’s celebration stands on that historical legacy and on our state’s reputation for social progression — but it will also be a great time to get out and have some fun downtown. 

“We’ve got our biggest lineup ever this year,” said Jason Zeman, the Pride executive and also the owner of Iowa City’s only gay club, Studio 13, 13 S. Linn St. “It’s our [IC Pride’s] 45th year and our first year as a nonprofit. We have more sponsors than we’ve ever had. We have bands downtown; we have local drag kings and queens, a yoga class, belly dancers, and a lot more.”

Zeman’s club, also one of the few 19-plus venues in town, has long been the center of Iowa City’s LGBT community. 

“If you want to come here, it doesn’t matter who you are or your background, they’ll treat you just fine — like a good friend or family,” said Eric, a 26-year old patron of Studio 13. This week marks his first Pride celebration after coming out.

“Iowa City itself helped me discover who I am as a person,” said Eric’s boyfriend, Stephen. “I’m from a super-small conservative town, and I was closeted for years. I moved here, and I could finally be who I wanted to be because no one cared. And if they did, then so what? There’s a whole group of people behind you here to support you in everything. Pride is awesome; it brings people in from all around Iowa. It’s kind of like a family reunion.”

Iowa City has notably been a more accepting community in the state. Last fall, it received a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest civil-rights organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

The organization releases a report rating cities across the country based on LGBTQ issues, including relationship recognition, anti-discrimination laws, and relationships with law enforcement. The average national scores was 59. Gamma Rho Lambda National Sorority became a chapter on the University of Iowa campus this spring in order to provide LGBT-friendly spaces for students.

Same-sex marriage is gaining momentum on a national scene. Currently, 37 states plus Washington, D.C., have legalized same sex marriage; Iowa was the third to do so after the 2009 court case Varnum v. Brien.

Pride Week is a time for the LGBT community to celebrate, but it’s also an inclusive event meant for the whole city to enjoy. 

“I feel like straight people are more comfortable here during Pride Week,” said Griffin Ford, an employee at Studio 13. “It’s a lot easier for them to go to a show on the Ped Mall than maybe come into the club for the first time without any sort of knowledge. It’s finally the time of the year where we’re all together, we’re mostly getting along, and it lets us show people who aren’t in the gay community that we’re nice people, we’re fun people — sort of.” 

Jewell Amos, the chairwoman of Iowa City Pride since 2011, has also pushed for the festival’s increased accessibility and visibility to the larger Iowa City community in recent years. 

“We’ve moved from the Upper City Park to the Ped Mall — we’re open to everyone coming across us and being welcome,” she said. “We want to make it so that the whole community is aware of each other. So we can show each other that some of these things aren’t as scary as you think they might be. A lot of things are only scary because you don’t understand them. When you can have some exposure in a fun atmosphere, it makes it a little less threatening. And we can build these bridges that happen naturally. It makes us a stronger community as a whole.”

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