IOWA CITY — Raymond Perry remembers the day he joined the University of Iowa Gay Liberation Front as they piled into a convertible to ride in the 1970 campus Homecoming parade.
It was just one year after the Stonewall riots, when New York City police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, sparking six days of protests that served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement across the country.
Members of the campus Gay Liberation Front, which was formed under the larger organization Students for a Democratic Society, were nervous. It’s not visible in a black and white photo of the float that was published in the 1971 campus yearbook, but Perry said the student riding in the passenger-side front seat of the convertible had a gun in his lap.
“I don’t know if it was loaded. It was to send a message,” Perry said. “We were a little apprehensive of coming out and being public like that.”
They had good reason for their apprehension. More than one member of the group had been assaulted for being gay or for being suspected of being gay, he said. He was one of them — he said he was attacked once in his hometown of Davenport.
Gay relationships also could be subject to legal persecution. UI archivist David McCartney, who has documented LGBTQ history on campus, said it wasn’t until 1978 that homosexual relationships were decriminalized in Iowa.
Still, Perry said he knew he wanted to be part of the float.
“I thought it was important at that time that people knew they knew gay people,” he said. “People then thought they didn’t know anyone who was gay.”
Almost 50 years later, the moment stands out as a milestone.
The Gay Liberation Front received student government funding, said McCartney, and is believed to be the first student group dedicated to LGBTQ issues to be officially recognized by a public university in the country.
“It’s quite a significant event in LGBT history,” he said.
Organizers of the 2019 Iowa City Pride Festival use that float to mark Iowa City as having one of the longest-standing Pride movements in the country. They want this year’s festival, which will be June 15, to honor that history.
“We’re one of the longest running in the whole country, just a year after Stonewall,” said festival committee member Chris Hawes.
The festival, which is June 15, caps a weeklong series of Pride-related events around town. The festival will include live entertainment, including music and drag performances, panel discussions at the Englert Theatre — which are new this year — and a parade through downtown Iowa City.
McCartney said he also wants this year’s Pride Festival to acknowledge not just how far society has come in the 50 years since Stonewall, but the struggle and suffering that made those advances possible.
“This is a time of celebration, but it is also a time of remembrance of people who sacrificed much — at times their own lives, to advance human rights,” he said. “There is certainly much progress to be celebrated, but there is still much to be done.”
At the festival, Perry and McCartney will speak together on a panel about LGBTQ history in Iowa City.
Perry, who was born in July 1949, graduated with a B.A. in history from UI in 1971 and from UI law school in 1975. He went on to serve as Iowa assistant attorney general for civil rights, assigned to the Civil Rights Commission. In addition to law, he has worked as a radio talk show host in Des Moines and in Fresno, Calif., and elsewhere.
He identifies as bisexual and married a woman, Judy Perry, with whom he raised two daughters. Still, he said, he always felt attracted to men. For a long time, he tried to erase those feelings, even as he was involved in the Gay Liberation Front. Even as an activist, he couldn’t suppress societal pressures and stigma.
“I was unsure of my sexuality. We didn’t know the term bisexual then. I didn’t want to be gay,” he said.
He said he voluntarily underwent shock treatments meant to “cure” him, done by a psychologist practicing on campus. He would be shown photos of men before being administered electric shocks.
“I wondered what was wrong with me,” he said. “And then I understood, later, that it’s a normal part of human society.”
It wasn’t until the American Psychological Association announced in 1973 they were removing homosexuality from their list of mental disorders that he was able to fully accept his sexuality, he said.
“When they said it was not a disease or defect, I finally realized everything I’d been taught as a child was wrong,” he said. “It was liberating. I was liberated from all these horrible thoughts, the guilt, the shame.”
He said when he came out to his father, the older man was accepting but gave him a copy of Playboy magazine, perhaps hoping the photographs would stimulate attraction to women. Instead, Perry said, the joke about “only reading Playboy for the articles” turned out to be apropos.
“The articles had a lot of good information. They told me I was OK,” he said.
Now 69, Perry lives in an Iowa City apartment with his partner of four years, Jackie Waters. Waters also was previously married to a woman; the two met after she died.
Waters said he wasn’t expecting to fall in love with Perry. But after they met, “It just happened,” he said.
Perry looked at him with affection.
“When you look at how much has changed, it’s incredible,” he said. “Society is moving forward.”
Parade Route and Info:
• Parade: Noon to 1 p.m. June 15; starts at the Pentacrest, winds through downtown and ends on the Pedestrian Mall in front of the Iowa City Public Library.
• Vendor fair and main stage entertainment noon to 10 p.m. Stage on corner of Washington and Linn streets.
• Main stage performances: The Quire of Eastern Iowa, 1 p.m.; Draglings, 1:30 p.m.; Everyday People Say What, 2:05 p.m.; Pride Drag Royalty, 3 p.m.; Nikki Lunden’s Natural Habits, 4 p.m.; I.C. Kings 4:55 p.m., Rebellion Burlesque, 5:50 p.m.; Namoli Brennet, 6:40 p.m., Ariel Versace, 7:30 p.m., Isaac Burris, 8:35 p.m.
• Speaker panels 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the Englert, 221 E. Washington St.
• Panels: Kink demonstration, 1:20 p.m.; LGBTQ History in Iowa City, 2:25 p.m.; “The Little Boy Who Grew Up to Be Cher” Miss Trans USA Candi Stratton, 3:45 p.m.; Being an LGBTQ Person of Color in Iowa City, 4:45 p.m.; LGBTQ Sexual Health, 5:50 p.m.; small group discussions 7 p.m.
• Learn more at iowacitypride.org.
Iowa City Pride Week
• “Stonewall Uprising” screening, 6 to 9 p.m. Monday, FilmScene, 118 E. College St.
• Big Gay Bar Crawl, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tuesday, downtown Iowa City
• Drop the Mic for Pride spoken word and live music performance, 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Yacht Club, 13 S. Linn St.
• I.C. Kings performance, 9:30 p.m. to midnight Thursday, Studio 13, 13 S. Linn St.
• Pride picnic, noon to 7 p.m. Friday, City Park, 200 Park Rd.
• Pride pub quiz, 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Friday, the Deadwood, 1 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
• Pride post-party, 6 to 9 p.m. June 16, Hatchet Jack’s, 101 Highway 1 W
If you go: Cedar Rapids Pride Festival
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 6, NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids; crpridefest.com
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