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Iowa City Pride Parade a celebration of firsts for many

In wake of Orlando shootings, annual event draws thousands

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IOWA CITY — Emma Stephens and Joanna Reed had trouble sleeping Friday night.

They were overcome with excitement as they’d soon be attending their very first Pride event. The friends stayed up late talking about what it would be like on the downtown streets of Iowa City Saturday as the annual Pride Parade took place.

Curbing their enthusiasm was a message from Reed’s 14-year-old sister: don’t go. That message came in the wake of a mass shooting at a popular gay club in Orlando last Sunday that claimed the life of 49 people and injured dozens more.

But Stephens, a student at the University of Northern Iowa, and Reed, a student at Iowa State University, would not be deterred. In fact, they said the shooting made it even more important they go.

“You have to show that you can’t be knocked down,” said Reed.

For Stephens, the event was particularly liberating as she said this is the first time in her life she feels comfortable enough identifying as bisexual to attend a public gathering in celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community.

“I wanted to go to Pride for a few years, but this is the first year I felt out enough to go,” she said.

“There is something to be said about your first actual Pride event,” Reed said.

Thousands of people, many wearing colorful outfits and waving rainbow flags, filled the sidewalks of North Johnson Street, Iowa Avenue, North Dubuque Street, Washington Street, South Gilbert Street and East College Street. The parade stepped off around noon and included about 30 entries — everything from local businesses to churches to LGBT organizations. A number of drag queens joined the festivities throughout the route.

Organizers said despite the events in Orlando, they planned to carry on the celebration as usual. A moment of silence was planned for a post-parade gathering.

Sgt. Kevin Bailey of the Iowa City Police Department said nothing out of the ordinary took place during the parade.

Saturday’s Pride event also marked a first for Jefri Palermo and her wife Pat Brockett. Palermo, an Iowa City resident, said she has marched in the Pride Parade nearly 40 years, but had never attended with her wife.

For Brockett, it was her first parade.

“Every year, it gets more inclusive and there’s more variety of people,” Palermo said. “We need to celebrate that we are alive, living happy lives and we are part of the community. More and more, it’s all of us celebrating our diversity.”

Palermo said it was especially gratifying to talk with people who came to Pride from rural communities.

“It’s wonderful to see them come; we’re kind of in a bubble here in Iowa City.”

Blake and Colton Graves, of Iowa City, also attended their first Pride event Saturday. Blake Graves is from a small town in Illinois and echoed Palermo’s thoughts on being gay in rural communities.

“Iowa City is much more tolerant,” Colton Graves said.

That’s a lesson Jake and Jessica McCusker are hoping to teach their two young children, who called Saturday’s event the “rainbow love parade.”

“They don’t understand it now, but it will show tolerance later on,” said Jake McCusker.

Jessica McCusker added she and her husband have been coming to the parade for four years to “support celebrating love in any form.”

Lacresha Holliday, a Pride volunteer, said it’s important to involve children because it shows them members of the LGBT community are just

“normal people.”

“We’re happy, great people,” she said. “We’re just gay.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8535; emily.barske@thegazette.com

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