By Lucia Wagner and Madeline Deninger
Pride supporters flocked to City Park and the Pedestrian Mall for weekend festivities in support of LGBTQ rights.
President of Iowa City Pride Nathan Kelley, 35, hopes to take the enthusiasm demonstrated at the 2017 Iowa City Pride Festival and harness it to create an LGBTQ community center in Iowa City. He said this would expand the celebration to provide something the community can utilize beyond an annual weeklong event in the third week of June.
The Daily Iowan spoke with community members about their thoughts on the week’s significance. Here are highlights from the June 16-17 events, including the picnic, parade, and festival:
Swallowing your pride
To kick off the weekend’s festivities, the Iowa City Pride Picnic was held in Upper City Park on June 16.
A saxophonist and guitarist performed while picnickers congregated for a dinner provided by Shakespeare’s Pub & Grill. Sizable rainbow flags adorned the shelter.
Kelley, who has attended the Iowa City Pride Festival since 2003, remembers when the picnic was the only formal public gathering for the yearly celebration.
“We keep [the Pride Picnic] on Friday to remind people where [Pride Fest] started,” he said.
Community participation in what has grown into a weeklong celebration has increased significantly since its humble beginnings, said Jewell Amos, the former president of Iowa City Pride, who served from 2011 to 2016.
“The growth has been extreme,” she said. “We keep growing and building bridges in the community.”
Iowa City resident Rachel Marek, 32, first attended the picnic as a college student. Marek, now married and a mother, sees the festival as a valuable experience for her daughter.
“It’s important for [my daughter] to see people like us,” she said.
Kelley said he is drawn to the picnic because it provides an opportunity for the community to reunite in a central location.
“As I look around, I see some faces I haven’t seen all year,” he said. “So it’s almost like a gay Thanksgiving where everyone is back and gets to see each other.”
Marching for unity
The 2017 Pride Parade commenced at College Green Park on June 17 and featured a variety of colorful floats, including those representing political and religious organizations, drag performers, LGBTQ advocates, and local youth groups. Some tossed candy while others on roller skates zipped between floats.
Amos said the array of organizations and age levels keeps the festival fresh and energetic.
“We try to be inclusive and push the envelope,” she said.
For Beau Leavenworth, 14, the Iowa City Pride Parade meant much more than marching through the downtown.
Leavenworth, a member of Iowa City organization Teens for Social Justice, believes his club’s message of “celebrating diversity” was ill-received and “shot down with hate by a few people” at his previous school. On the day of the parade, Leavenworth marched with fellow members, displaying their club’s new banner.
Jamie Powers, the owner and executive pastry chef of local bakery DeLuxe Cakes & Pastries, stood beside her business’ vending booth, selling homemade beverages and sugar cookies to passersby.
Powers has lived in Iowa City “on and off for 42 years,” but the Pride Festival remains her favorite Iowa City celebration, she said.
“[The Iowa City Pride Festival] is great. It’s electric,” Powers said. “Plus it’s family-friendly, which I really love.”
Vendors promoting local and national businesses and organizations packed the Pedestrian Mall. T-shirts bearing the slogan “The Future is Gender-Neutral” were sold alongside merchandise featuring LGBTQ pride flags. Hundreds assembled around drag performers as they sang and danced to popular music.
For 10 years, Jared Breakenridge, 31, known as drag character “Sasha Belle,” has performed at Studio 13 and Pride Fest. Sasha Belle competed during the seventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and was Miss Gay Iowa 2016.
Belle said the best aspect of Iowa City Pride is the family-friendly atmosphere.
“I really love seeing all the kids,” Belle said. “Their eyes light up; they’re so happy to see [Pride], and I’m glad they’re being exposed to such a loving community.”