Iowa City Pride kicks off Friday, celebrating its 50th anniversary


Downtown Iowa City will be the site of a major celebration Friday and Saturday, which reflects both the city’s history and a space that creates community.

It’s Iowa City Pride 2021, back in person after being canceled last year and limited to virtual events due to COVID-19.

Iowa City Pride is also celebrating its 50th anniversary, a milestone that was reached last year but could not be fully celebrated due to the pandemic.

It’s important to recognize the significance of 50 years, said Anthony Sivanthaphanith, president of Iowa City Pride, who told the Press-Citizen that small town pride festivals aren’t often seen in the media, not like those in Los Angeles or other big cities.

Still, Iowa City Pride has been around for decades, a feat owed in part to the University of Iowa and the students who organized a first iteration there in 1970 and who have continued to be involved in advocacy efforts. Sivanthaphanith explained.

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This longevity sets Iowa City Pride apart from other cities in the Midwest.

“Few of the Prides in Iowa, the Midwest, especially in the small towns, are (around) more than five years old to my knowledge,” Sivanthaphanith said. “It’s pretty cool and it’s a great respect for Iowa City to allow us to do this for the past 50 years.

Joe Reilly, co-director of the festival, added that Iowa City Pride is like “a beacon” in Iowa.

“We’ve been 50 years, and it’s important to keep that light on and keep moving forward, bigger and bigger and stronger, and to cast a wider net and grow this. family that we have created here and to ensure that everyone is seen, heard and represented. ”Said Reilly.

Why Iowa City Pride is running a march alongside other entertainment

Instead of a parade this year, Iowa City Pride is leading a unit march starting in College Green Park and ending at the intersection of East Washington Street and South Linn Street.

The walk will start on Saturday at noon.

The purpose of the walk is to show the community that Iowa City Pride and participants are ready to continue fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ + community and others, organizers said.

Other pride festivals have also switched to hosting marches this year, Sivanthaphanith said, which encouraged Iowa City to follow suit.

Sivanthaphanith pointed out that the Iowa Legislature introduced 15 anti-LGBTQ + bills in 2021. These bills are followed by One Iowa Action, an organization that defends and preserves the rights of the LGBTQ + community.

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The fact that this bill has been introduced, Sivanthaphanith said, has the community concerned. The walk is a reminder that there is still work to be done.

The artists for Pride this year, aside from the headliners, are mostly local artists, entertainment director Blake Shaw said. Saturday’s entertainment will begin at 1 p.m. near Studio 13 on Linn Street.

The festivities include the Iowa City Pride All Stars Drag Show from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at the Weatherdance Fountain Stage at Ped Mall.

Prior to that, attendees can stop by the Pride Downtown Vendor Fair. It will feature legal services, medical services, Iowa-based LGBTQ + organizations and more.

Tracing the history of pride and LGBTQ + in Iowa City to the 1960s

According to David McCartney, UI archivist, the Gay Liberation Front was founded at UI in 1970, making history the first “officially recognized group of queer students” at a public university in the United States.

That year, the student organization participated in an IU reunion parade, marking the start of pride in Iowa City.

McCartney, co-curator of the online exhibit and timeline “LGBTQ Life in Iowa City, Iowa: 1967-2010,” explained how UI students were behind the “first truly visible activism in Iowa City ”.

But it also started before 1970.

In 1965, an event at the Iowa Memorial Union featured a representative of the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian rights group.

This representative was invited to speak to an “organization of professors’ wives,” McCartney said, showing that even then the university was contributing to the visibility of the LGBTQ + community.

Over the decades since, there have been countless significant moments in LGBTQ + history in Iowa City. A few, as documented in McCartney’s timeline, include:

  • 1973: The Lesbian Alliance is formed
  • 1975: Midwest Gay Pride conference takes place in Iowa City
  • 1977: The Iowa City Council passes the first anti-discrimination ordinance in Iowa, which included a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation
  • 1991: Unemployment insurance extends domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples employed at university.
  • 2006: Opening of the Pride Alliance Center, then known as UI Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center

“Feeling Loved at Home”: The Importance of Pride in Local Iowa Communities

People wearing rainbow balloon backpacks throw candy during the 49th Annual Iowa City Pride Parade on Saturday, June 15, 2019, in downtown Iowa City, Iowa.

It’s especially important to experience pride in person, Iowa City organizers said.

Shaw said that, from an artist’s point of view, performing practically means losing live audience feedback. This makes the experience difficult, so the performers at Iowa City Pride are excited to be back on stage.

For the Iowa City Pride community, Sivanthaphanith said the event is an opportunity to see friends and their chosen family.

It also provides a feeling of security.

“That’s what Prides across the country offer, it’s a safe place, and especially in the Midwest in places like Iowa, Nebraska,” Sivanthaphanith said. “Small towns don’t experience this, so we get a lot of people from small towns just outside of Iowa City.”

Across Iowa, more and more cities have hosted pride celebrations, such as Coralville, which hosts its first pride festival in November.

These local prides are ways to create visibility and connection, just like Iowa City Pride did years ago and continues to do now.

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In Sioux County in northwest Iowa, the conservative small town of Orange City hosted its first Pride event in 2017.

Mike Goll is one of the founders and organizers of Orange City Pride. He told the Press-Citizen that the first OC Pride was a small event, mostly held at a cafe in the town square.

Goll said that in Orange City, most of the opportunities to connect with others are at church. For those who do not identify with the faith, it is more difficult to connect.

“Thanks to Pride, we have been able to meet a lot of new people, and it has been very positive, I know that for ourselves, but also for the queer people identified in this city,” he said.

At the following year’s event, OC Pride had a larger venue and put on a drag show as part of the festivities, Goll said.

But OC Pride faced a backlash.

The Des Moines Register reported in 2018 that a man from Iowa burned library books containing LGBTQ + themes in response to one of OC Pride’s activities.

For Goll, it’s a reflection of a community experiencing culture shock and realizing that the queer community exists and is “bigger than they thought.”

Goll said that many times in the past, people who identified as LGBTQ + from Orange City or Sioux County have moved.

“I think we have such a beautiful city and such nice people, (so) it’s sad that all LGBTQIA feel compelled to leave,” Goll said.

He added that part of the existing pride is “feeling like you can belong or feel assertive and loved at home”.

How Pride’s delay in Iowa City created an opportunity for IU students

Iowa City Pride’s move from June to October ended up aligning with a large population: UI students, who often return home in the summer.

According to Reilly, there will be a larger conversation after Iowa City Pride about whether students can attend its festivities in the future.

But Iowa City Pride expects the student body to increase the numbers this year.

Sivanthaphanith added that UI student groups are excited to volunteer, help and be at Iowa City Pride.

“I know this is something everyone on the board agrees on, at least we want to make sure our students are more included in the events that we are hosting,” said Sivanthaphanith.

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Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle, and the arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Contact her at [email protected] or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.

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