116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Often considered “flyover country,” Cedar Rapids officials hope to put Iowa on the map as a place for the LGBTQ community to land.
The city of Cedar Rapids and The Eastern Iowa Airport will host the National Gay Pilots Association’s “Wings Over Iowa” fly-in event June 3-5, a first-of-its kind event that will bring members of the worldwide LGBTQ aviation community to Iowa’s second-largest city, officials announced Wednesday at the airport.
For the aviation part of the event on June 5, there will be a static aircraft display, plus food and other vendors to provide education about aviation. Other event details will be shared at a later date.
In early conversations last year with city officials, association President Brian Gambino said Julie Stow, the associate executive director of the Cedar Rapids Tourism Office, said Iowa wasn’t just flyover country.
After meeting with LGBTQ community members and city officials here, seeing rainbow stickers in the windows of local businesses as a signal of acceptance, Gambino said he knew the association needed to land in other places to grow its mission of building and uniting the LGBTQ aviation community. With the city’s aviation history, including its ties to the Wright brothers aviation pioneers, Gambino said the event could inspire aviation aspirations.
Visiting Cedar Rapids showed “that this community is welcoming, that this community is accepting and that this is a place where our members cannot only feel safe, but feel welcome, and Cedar Rapids was an easy choice after that,” Gambino said. “You always want to be somewhere where you’re wanted, and we felt very wanted here.”
As the city attracts other large events, such as the NCAA Division III college baseball championship in June, Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell said she is excited to show the world the city’s momentum.
Stow said the National Gay Pilots Association event is anticipated to have an economic impact of approximately $1 million.
The true impact of this event won’t entirely be visible, O’Donnell said. The association will come here and touch lives because people “will see themselves in the work that you do,” O’Donnell told Gambino.
“This is just one more layer of new pride we can add,” O’Donnell said.
Added Airport Director Marty Lenss, “I couldn’t be more proud to host the events here at CID. And for CID, we're all about getting more people exposed to the industry we love and really look forward to having the events here,.”
This event marks some firsts for the organization, too. Gambino said this would be the first time having a formal, advertised fly-in event where members will fly in their personal aircraft and jets, and the community is welcomed to come and meet its members.
There is “no time greater than right now” to host such an event, Gambino said, on the heels of Iowa and states around the nation passing anti-LGBTQ legislation. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this month signed a GOP-backed bill into law barring transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ and women’s sports, suggesting the law levels the playing field for female athletes.
“This is the time to be welcomed by a city that is in a state that for some reason is taking a step backward, and to show the local community that they need not be afraid — that there are people just like them,” Gambino said. “They have a support network, they have a support system and they have an organization that they can join to see visions of themselves, to receive mentorship and to lift them up and give them a family that they may need in a time where they may feel shunned by their own.”
The National Gay Pilots Association has a 32-year history and held its first meeting in Provincetown, Mass., in 1992. Members gathered mostly shrouded in secrecy, wearing T-shirts with airplanes or items to signal they were part of the event since it wasn’t broadly accepted to be openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. Now, the group has over 4,100 members and 27 chapters in the United States, plus three international chapters.
The association also will partner with CRPride, the not-for-profit that puts on the annual Pride fest locally. CRPride President Corey Jacobson said the group is excited to partner with association as Pride prepares to emerge from COVID-19 disruptions that shifted operations online and bring back the annual festivities in-person.
Jacobson said many LGBTQ members have told CRPride they need these in-person interactions again, as some have been spending more time inside during the pandemic with families that aren’t supportive of their identities.
The inaugural Pride parade on June 4 will be followed July 9 with a bigger festival in NewBo.
It’s unfortunate, Jacobson said, that Iowa is beginning to have a reputation as not being LGBTQ-friendly, but that’s not the case for the state overall and especially Cedar Rapids. This event is one step toward promoting awareness and acceptance of the LGBTQ community, Jacobson said.
“When you go into these communities and you talk to people, the support is there, the allyship is there.”
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