116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — As rainbows cascaded down NewBo’s Third Street SE, LGBTQ attendees on sidewalks Saturday afternoon saw a new sight in Cedar Rapids: a long-awaited Pride parade.
As convertibles and floats were propelled south by the cheers of crowds, the passing vehicles echoed back a joy unfamiliar to many seeing Pride for the first time in Cedar Rapids: a reflection of their own voice through signs of encouragement and speakers blasting anthems of LGBTQ empowerment.
The emblematic colors of Pride mean something slightly different to everyone. See what paradegoers say Pride means to the LGBTQ community in Cedar Rapids and why visible celebrations make a difference for queer visibility for the City of Five Seasons.
What does Pride mean?
Longtime NewBo resident Mel Andringa sat atop a convertible with a sash bearing his full name — an act that most gay residents would not have considered 30 years ago. People like him, now 79, remember when the underground community was confined to spaces like bars and clubs.
For him, the parade in broad daylight was a long time coming.
When the artist moved to Cedar Rapids with his partner 32 years ago, members of the LGBTQ community often didn’t even mention their last name to each other.
“When we came to Cedar Rapids in 1990, we asked where the gay organizations were. Someone slipped us a little piece of paper with a note on it to go to this house,” Andringa said.
So Andringa and partner John Herbert went to the house and introduced themselves. “Please, no last names,” the host warned. “Some of us are teachers.”
The founders of Legion Arts at CSPS helped start the Gay and Lesbian Resource Center at the old fire station in NewBo in 1992, a time when the only organizations that openly worked with the community were medical relief organizations at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
To Andringa, Pride means respect.
“To see kids involved and a group from across the spectrum, a group from Linn-Mar — that’s really encouraging,” he said. “A lot has happened since 1990.”
Representing a sliver of the group donning rainbow paraphernalia of all kinds was the Rev. Debra Williams, a minister for Unity Center of Cedar Rapids. Churches like hers at Pride were another departure from who was present at celebrations years ago.
Pride is “being unashamed and empowered — not hiding your light,” she said. “If you don’t let it shine in all its magnificent glory, then you truly aren’t living out the way God intended you to live your life.”
“It’s an expression of love,” said Bonnie Bootsmiller before getting into the car to represent Unity Center.
To those coming in to join the National Gay Pilots Association, which is holding a fly-in at The Eastern Iowa Airport, Pride means having a voice. As that voice becomes louder in Cedar Rapids, the parade showed promise to change perceptions of flyover country.
“It (shows) massive growth. It’s heartening to see,” said Bella Burns.
As the 24-year-old attended her first Pride after coming out, she wanted to show domestic violence victims she advocates for the power of living your live authentically.
“A lot of people are scared to come out. I know I was,” she said. “It’s really good to gather as a community to support each other.”
For those already out, Pride is a refuge of acceptance in a slur-laden world. For those not comfortable donning so many colors at once, visibility is everything.
“They can see they’re not alone,” said Austin Wolf. “It’s easy to see online, but to know in your own community that you’re not alone and there are people in the community willing to be there for you … is really important.”
Up and down the street were teenagers experiencing their first Pride fully out. Some were accompanied by family.
Others without the support of relatives got free hugs from Sarah Larsen, a Cedar Rapids mom wearing a “free hugs” sign under a rainbow umbrella. At her first Pride, she was compelled to offer support to LGBTQ folks who don’t have it.
Two of her children recently came out. With a lot of pain to overcome for some in the community, this year’s parade was sign to her that the city is improving in acceptance.
“There’s so many people out there who don’t have the right support system,” Larsen said. “It’s just showing that you don’t have to be blood related to have someone care about you and support you and accept you.”
Across the street from Larsen was a couple cheering on groups marching by with another reason attendees love Pride — the freedom to express themselves as the people they are.
In addition to feeling free to identify by their last name, they were able to show their true colors without inhibition in a place that celebrated who they were without asking them to tone it down.
“They need to know that we have a right to be here, like everybody else,” said Jaymee Chyko-Brown, a local drag king. “We need to have a voice in the community just like everybody else.”
Why did the parade take so long?
Though Cedar Rapids Pride has been around since 1992 and held festivals before the pandemic, this is the first time Cedar Rapids has hosted a parade — one of the most visible symbols of Pride celebrations in most major cities.
“The first thing everyone always said was ‘we need a parade,’” said Corey Jacobson, president of CR Pride.
Planning for the parade has been three years in the making. As CR Pride got ready to announce the first parade in 2020, the pandemic put it on hold for two years.
So they used the time to drum up excitement, holding a “poster parade” in the Czech Village last year and fundraising with a new volunteer board and the expertise to pull off an unfamiliar feat. In addition to this year’s parade, Cedar Rapids Pride Fest in July will bring a lineup headlined by RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Utica Queen.
The festival was planned in a separate month to not conflict with the Freedom Fest or Pride celebrations in Des Moines and Iowa City — an unwritten rule, Jacobson said.
To him, Pride means being able to live life openly with dignity, joy, integrity and courage without fear of judgment.
“Yes, I’m a cisgender gay man, but I’m also a son, brother, nephew, co-worker, friend and ally,” he said. “When people see these other identifiers before my sexuality and accept me for my entire self, that is what true pride is for me.”
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