IOWA CITY — In Iowa City Pride’s 48-year history, this year’s Pride Parade and Festival were perhaps the most visible to date.
The celebration was the organization’s largest yet, with longer hours and increased participation.
Iowa City Pride president Nathan Kelley, 36, said there were 62 entries in Saturday’s parade, up from 48 last year. There were 83 vendors — a spike from the 60 or so vendors participating in 2017.
Part of that growth can be attributed to the organization securing nonprofit status. The organization has garnered major sponsorships and is expanding its mission to offer more service to the community.
Iowa City Pride is the oldest Pride organization in the state. Other festivals take place during the summer in Des Moines, the Quad Cities and in Cedar Valley. Cedar Rapids will celebrate Pride on July 7 at NewBo City Market.
Iowa City celebrated Pride Week from Monday through Sunday.
Pride activities on Saturday started with a Queer Coffee Shop at 10 a.m. inside the Englert Theatre as volunteers and members of local organizations set up for the vendor fair, lining Washington Street with a colorful array of umbrellas to remain shielded from the sun.
Locals lined the streets of downtown Iowa City to watch the parade at noon, where drag performers, local politicians and the community converged to don rainbow-colored clothing and celebrate with the LGBTQ community.
Until 9:30 p.m., performers graced the outdoor stage on Linn Street. Iowa City musician Elizabeth Moen kicked off the festival with her original music at 1 p.m., and performers such as drag troupes Haus of Eden and I.C. Kings, “American Idol” contestant Alisabeth Von Presley and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestants also made appearances throughout the day.
As the Iowa City Pride organization has grown, the annual celebration for the LGBTQ community and allies hasn’t strayed far from its roots as a protest, organizers say, but it has become more of a celebration.
The Pride organization was born out of protest in 1970 — one year after the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York. University of Iowa students formed the Gay Liberation Front, draping a “Gay Pride is Gay Power” banner across a convertible in the Homecoming Parade to mark the first public pride display in the state.
“I think it started off as a protest, and for some it still is, but in Iowa City … it’s a celebration of diversity and family,” Kelley said.
As an Iowa City native, Bridget Malone, 57, was a co-chair of Pride for about 10 years in the early 2000s and has seen the movement for LGBTQ rights make progress over several decades.
“When you came out, people often lost their families, they often were rejected by their families,” Malone said. “I think that happens much less now.”
Iowa City resident Anne Pollock, 54, said coming out was more of a statement in the past, but now, people are able to participate in Pride and have fun being out.
“It’s more of a festivity rather than a stress to be seen,” Pollock said. “I do see more diverse costumes, more diverse color.”
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When Malone was 18, she said UI students were largely the ones celebrating. Now, Malone noted there is more of a fair-like, family-friendly atmosphere. Many attendees are high school and college students from across the state, but parents also attend with their children.
“It’s special,” Malone said. “When your people are in the majority is rare for LGBT people.”
It’s important to celebrate Pride because it is a celebration of “who we are,” said Elizabeth Pearson, 19, of West Liberty.
“When everybody comes together for Pride, I just feel like it’s a family,” Pearson said. “ ... It makes me happy for who I am because sometimes we get lost, we get put down by other people that are anti-gay or homophobic, so it feels really nice to be around people that are just like you.”