116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
For Jen Rowray, Pride festivals have always been about making connections and celebrating - celebrating diversity, celebrating acceptance and celebrating the power of community.
A board member for CR PrideFest, she is helping bring the annual event to NewBo City Market for the first time this year. The festival, with speakers, entertainment and vendors, will be held on the lawn in front of the market from noon to 4 p.m. July 8.
Rowray hopes the new location will bring in more people, build more connections - and be a bigger celebration as a result. Talking about why that is important, she reflects on what Pride meant for her when she first came out as a lesbian in the 1990s.
'It was the heyday of big Prides in cities like Chicago. They were really important networks for people,” she said. 'Just seeing everybody be themselves, seeing people who looked like me and didn't look like me sharing a bond - that was powerful.”
The nonprofit that puts on CR PrideFest is GLRC of Cedar Rapids - Gay Lesbian Resource Center - which formed in 1994. Over the years its activity and engagement level has waxed and waned as different people have joined and left the board, and PrideFest has waxed and waned with it.
'Everyone of the board has full-time jobs and families, but everybody feels very strongly we need to have PrideFest and believes in it,” Rowray said.
This year she said it feels like a fire has been lit, and people have been coming out of the woodwork to support the festival. She's hoping it will be the biggest Cedar Rapids Pride in years as a result.
'In this political climate, a lot of people have wanted to get involved. I think a lot of people who took Pride as the status quo now are realizing it's not always guaranteed,” said boardmember Amy Shoemaker.
That said, Rowray said for her the event is not about politics so much as it is an affirmation of community and support.
'We're celebrating the fact that we can celebrate. We're stronger together, we're stronger celebrating the positives, even if we don't always agree on everything,” she said.
Held in the past at Greene Square, for the last few years the festival was held at Belle's Basix, a bar that has been an institution for the local LGBTQ community. The decision to move the event to NewBo this year has proved popular; organizers had to request additional vendor space from the market because of high interest. Board members hope holding the festival in a central Cedar Rapids location will bring out more people - not just members of the LGBTQ community, but their friends, family and neighbors as well.
'I think when you think about it, everyone is somehow connected to someone in the LGBT community,” Shoemaker said.
A teacher, she joined the board after her son came out and she and her husband were looking for ways to support him. She now serves as the board's secretary.
With plans for a bouncy house, face paint and entertainment including a magician, the event is designed to be family-friendly. There also will be live music, a comedian, Jazzercise, a drag show and speakers including local politicians, along with over 40 vendors.
The vendors include everything from service organizations to local businesses who want to advertise they are welcoming and friendly to the LGBTQ community. Rowray, who works at local print and marketing company Allegra, is helping print a LGBTQ-friendly business directory that will include many of those vendors.
There are also several PrideFest-affiliated events this year. On July 5 the Legacies speaker series at the Cedar Rapids Public Library will include four speakers from the LGBTQ community, including Rowray, will talk about the local history of Pride. Moving to NewBo has led to neighborhood establishments getting involved as well, with events like an author reading at Next Page Books and an art installation at CSPS Hall.
Rowray and Shoemaker hope this year's expanded PrideFest efforts will be a springboard for further growth for the nonprofit. Next year, they hope to connect with more area employers as well as do outreach into smaller towns around Cedar Rapids and into Benton, Jones and Iowa counties.
'I don't want to get stuck in the idea that we're just for Cedar Rapids, we really want to include the outlying communities,” Rowray said.
She also hopes the organization can bring in the next generation of activists and leaders.
'I want youth of today, who are kind of coming into their own, who sometimes don't see themselves in the world, to see us out there in the community, doing things and showing leadership,” she said. 'Pride is really important because for one day, at least, people can see that bubbles of complete support do exist.”
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