116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Corey Jacobson hadn’t yet come out as gay when he attended his first pride celebration — “scared to death” and alone — in 2006 in Greene Square Park.
Jacobson stepped out of his car and was surprised to see so many people there. He saw two men holding hands, displaying their love freely — something he’d never thought of doing before.
He’d found members of the LGBTQ community, but Jacobson didn’t immediately know how to respond. After spending his life up until that point “in a box,” Jacobson said, it was uncomfortable to begin to step outside of those confines by going to the fest and to what was then Belle’s Basix, an LGBTQ bar on First Avenue NE, for the first time.
Thoughts of leaving and going home crossed his mind, but he stayed — and years later, he’s glad he did.
“It made me realize at that point that I wasn't alone,” Jacobson said. “Wherever you are in your journey, there is someone there to support you. And when I left that day, I promised myself that I would be that someone for someone else.”
Since his initial reluctance to openly express his identity, the Cedar Rapids native has become a reliable champion for LGBTQ rights and visibility in Cedar Rapids as president of the nonprofit CR Pride.
He stepped into the role in September 2020, after the board made the call to cancel CR Pride fest for the year because of COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, CR Pride found ways to engage the LGBTQ community and allies virtually. For many LGBTQ people who lacked support and had nowhere to go, Jacobson said that programming was key, but he and the board wanted to bring CR Pride back for its 30th anniversary in a big way leading up to the July 9 fest outside NewBo City Market.
“We committed to coming back strong and doing what we can to show our community that we know these last two years have been tough not being able to get together and celebrate,” Jacobson said, “so we're going to come back and we’re going to offer everything we can possibly can to have one hell of a party and celebrate our community.”
In addition to the fest, CR Pride has hosted a slate of events including drag brunches and a unique fly-in block party at The Eastern Iowa Airport with the National Gay Pilots Association.
The board wanted to show that pride is more than coming together to celebrate once a year, Jacobson said. He added that LGBTQ youth in particular need to know pride is here year-round because of the national narrative that makes them feel they don’t matter.
Advocates have condemned anti-LGBTQ legislation passed by GOP legislatures around the nation, such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill banning elementary classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity and policies passed in several states, including Iowa, banning transgender girls from playing on school women’s sports teams.
“Whether you're straight, gay, trans, questioning, you have a safe space to come and be yourself and know that you're accepted for who you are, and that is more important today than it has ever been,” Jacobson said.
Growing up when University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was gay, was beaten, tortured and left to die near Laramie in 1998, Jacobson said it was “a different time than it is today.”
He realized early on in life that he was gay, but said his father got sick and died so he delayed coming out to take care of his family. When he began to think about coming out again, he got scared after Shepard’s death and decided to wait once more.
Once he did come out, Jacobson said he was blessed to find true allies in his mother, brother and sister.
“It finally hit me that I deserve to be happy, and just focusing on work and taking care of everybody else is not going to be the life that I want for myself,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson has come a long way since those days, now serving as a visible LGBTQ advocate in Cedar Rapids — speaking with other organizations about CR Pride, waving in the group’s first-ever parade on the streets of New Bohemia, putting himself out in front of media and sponsors.
He plans to continue working with the board to build partnerships with LGBTQ-owned local businesses such as Chophouse Downtown and spread CR Pride’s message to the rest of Linn County and beyond.
In the last five years, Jacobson said, Cedar Rapids has taken a 180-degree turn as businesses display pride flags and ally signs on their windows. As CR Pride works to raise more awareness, Jacobson said he’s hopeful for a future in which all residents and visitors know Cedar Rapids is an inclusive destination.
“How do we continue to show that Cedar Rapids is this welcoming community? We say we're welcoming,” Jacobson said. “So what are the steps that we are taking behind the words to prove that we are? I think there are things that we need to do, but I definitely think we're moving in the right direction.”
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