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Iowa LGBTQ leader Donna Red Wing dies of cancer

Donna Red Wing led One Iowa for four years

Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, and Bob Vander Plaats, president and chief executive of The Family Leader, forged an unlikely friendship. They are shown in a July 2015 photo. (Danny Wilcox Frazier/Washington Post)
Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, and Bob Vander Plaats, president and chief executive of The Family Leader, forged an unlikely friendship. They are shown in a July 2015 photo. (Danny Wilcox Frazier/Washington Post)

The leader of Iowa’s largest LGBTQ organization when the U.S. Supreme Court reached a landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Donna Red Wing died Monday after a monthslong fight against lung cancer. She was 67.

“Donna was a force to be reckoned with and will be greatly missed by individuals across the country,” said a statement from Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, who succeed her as executive director of One Iowa after she retired in 2016. “She called herself an activist and an agitator and prided herself in being called the most dangerous woman by the Christian Coalition at one point.”

Red Wing was executive director of One Iowa for four years starting in 2012, and known for expanding the organization into new areas after same-sex marriage was legalized.

The Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the state in 2009, and the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it nationwide in 2015.

Before coming to Iowa, Red Wing served as executive director of Grassroots Leadership and co-chair of the Obama for America 2008 LGBT Leadership Council, among other duties.

The Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission recently named its annual lifetime achievement award after her in recognition of her decades of activism.

In 2015, the Washington Post reported that the two most visible opposing culture warriors in Iowa — Red Wing and Bob Vander Plaats, head of The Family Leader — had actually become friends after meetings over coffee and phone conversations.

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The friendship came against the backdrop of polarizing organizations across the nation realizing they needed to reach out supporters on the other side if they ever were to win over others.

“We are winning,” Red Wing told the Post at the time. “But I started asking myself, ‘What kind of winners are we going to be?’ We need to change hearts and minds. I’m tired of all the hate.”

That meant no more calling Vander Plaats a “hater” or a “bigot,” Red Wing insisted. Vander Plaats said he constantly told his staff to treat the opponents with love.

“There are times when I ask myself, before I put an idea out there, ‘How would Donna receive this?’ Because I love her,” Vander Plaats said at the time, quickly adding: “Not that I’m changing my beliefs.”

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