Thousands of Iowans are attending pride events throughout the state this month. It’s a testament to the enormous progress Iowa’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community has made during the past five decades.
Iowa City Pride will be celebrated all this week, leading up to a parade Saturday. The event is one of the longest-running in the country, marking its 48th year and offering a prime example of Iowans’ embrace of the LGBTQ community.
Things were different in 1970, when a group of gay University of Iowa students entered the university homecoming parade as a protest. The float featured a man presiding as the “anti-homecoming queen.”
The Oct. 16, 1970, edition of The Gazette ran a short story about the Gay Liberation Front and Students for a Democratic Society parade entries under the headline, “Controversy on Two Floats in Iowa Parade.”
“The Gay Liberation Front is based on the theme that homosexuals are discriminated against politically and socially,” the paper reported. The same year, some Republican legislators decried a bill allowing community colleges to collect student fees, warning it could lead to funding for gay organizations.
Pride parades originated in the United States one year earlier, following the infamous police raid on the Stonewall Inn gay bar in New York City. It was meant to be a radical demonstration against the government and societal forces which were targeting LGBTQ people.
In contrast to the early days, Iowa City’s Pride Week events now include a potluck at the Senior Center, a family picnic and a drag star brunch. Event sponsors include city government, UI and several of the city’s largest employers. It offers a moment to celebrate how much has changed since 1970.
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However, Pride Week also is an opportunity to reflect on persistent challenges. We still see cases where certain groups are targeted by political and government leaders, and we know LGBTQ people still face unfair treatment from their fellow Americans.
Just last year, Orange City in northwest Iowa hosted its first pride event, drawing criticism from some locals.
This year in the Iowa Legislature, Republican politicians put forth a bill to allow schools and businesses to restrict bathroom access by transgender people. It ultimately failed, but drew 12 co-sponsors. This weekend at the Republican state convention, delegates are expected to adopt a platform calling for the repeal of marriage equality.
And locally, the Iowa City Community School District’s school climate survey last year showed students identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual consistently gave lower ratings to school safety questions. A staggering 88 percent of such students said they hear hurtful comments about sexual orientation at school.
As we celebrate the LGBTQ movement’s accomplishments this month, we must also remember much work remains to be done.
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