LGBT groups in Iowa try to balance community with COVID-19

Miss QC Fall Pride, known as Ginger Snaps, rides in a convertible BMW for a parade at the 2019 Quad Cities Pride Festival. This year’s organizers have canceled plans for an event in June and will wait until fall for organize a parade and other events in the hopes that the pandemic has subsided further by then. (Photo by Quad City Times)

Ginger Snaps has to wait a few more months before putting on her wig, her tights and “rhinestones and rhinestones and more rhinestones” to play the role of master of ceremonies at the Quad Cities Pride Festival.

“The way I see it, every time I go on stage the only thing I want is for the audience to leave with a smile on their face because I know then that I have done my job”, said the drag performer and Miss Gay Illinois 2020 Champion. “Especially after last year, we need it.”

Snaps, known daily as Ginger Woodruff, has been involved in the bi-annual Quad Cities Pride festival since 2015. But this year, she will only have one event to lead for the group as the organizers have decided to ‘cancel the month of June. and instead focus on “Fall Pride” in September.

The festival is one of many LGBT events across Iowa that have been delayed or changed as the number of COVID-19 declines in the state.

Parade spectators with the Exelon group are blowing bubbles as on June 22, 2019, Unity Pride Parade begins in Davenport. This year. organizers will wait until fall to host pride events in the city. (Photo by Quad City Times)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fully vaccinated people can attend crowded outdoor events – like pride parades – but these events are among the least safe environments for unvaccinated people. . Only about half of Iowa residents up to the age of 12 – the youngest age eligible for COVID-19 vaccines – are fully immunized.

Pride organizers stressed the importance of prioritizing public health while bringing the community together after a year of isolation.

“How can we connect after a very long and difficult year and feel that sense of community again for the first time in a very long time? Asked Jen Carruthers, president of Capital City Pride in Des Moines.

This year, Capital City Pride will consist of 30 days of events less crowded than a traditional festival. Carruthers said 2019 was the proudest in 43 years, but it didn’t seem “socially responsible” to pack 30,000 people into the East Village this year.

“We also have to take public health into consideration, because we are an immunocompromised community, right? ” she said. “We are a group of marginalized people. “

The Federal Office for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reports that LGBT people face a range of health care disparities, from higher rates of homelessness and drug use to the isolation and lack of services for older LGBT people. Carruthers said LGBT people tend to have lower socioeconomic status and reduced access to health care, two issues made even more serious during the pandemic.

A story of two prides

Sioux City has two main pride celebrations: Sioux City Pride and SUX Pride (pronounced “Sioux”).

SUX Pride this year was a two-day Friday and Saturday event. Friday night was a festival in the historic downtown of the city. The event then took over from the Sioux City Convention Center for a vendor fair, family and charity events, and a 21-plus “star show”.

“The quality of the entertainment is amazing all day long, but the folks starting at 9pm are usually national title holders or government title holders who spend a lot on it,” said Joe McCulley, executive director of SUX Pride. . He expected over 1,000 people to attend.

Meanwhile, Sioux City Pride is putting the brakes on this year, delaying its annual picnic and festival until September 11. The family event attracted around 800 participants in 2019.

“It just didn’t look like enough people were going to get the shots fast enough to be sure to host an event of this size,” said Karen Mackey, vice president of the Siouxland Pride Alliance, the group that organizes Sioux City Pride.

Instead, the organization will host a smaller Pride event every weekend in June, ranging from “closing the loop” in decorated cars to a pizza party for LGBT youth.

The groups also took different approaches in 2020. SUX Pride hosted an event in 2020, although McCulley said it was smaller and masks were needed. Sioux City Pride has delayed and then canceled its festival in 2020.

Don Dew, chairman of the Siouxland Pride Alliance, told local NBC affiliate KTIV that Pride is supposed to be a safe space for LGBTQ people – something he didn’t think was possible during the height of the pandemic.

“Pride is always meant to keep LGBTQ people safe,” Dew said last August. “Many members of our community are at a higher risk of complications if they are infected with COVID-19 and our community also has higher rates of uninsured people.”

But the two groups, whether celebrating in June or September, stressed the importance of the LGBT community coming together, socializing and learning from each other.

“Last year with the pandemic and everything, there were so many people who were part of the LGBTQIA community who were isolated, and they didn’t have the luxury of getting together and stuff like that,” said McCulley, noting that the same could be said for everyone, regardless of sexuality. “… We’ve all somehow discovered the importance of social and human interaction.

Companies still in difficulty

Pride celebrations are often funded by local businesses, but after a year of closures and restrictions linked to the pandemic, money is tight across the board. Andrew Glasscock, co-director of Quad Cities Pride Festivals, said the event received fewer sponsorships for 2021 than usual.

“We understand that due to the COVID restrictions, everyone has had to make changes,” he said.

Many of this year’s festivals will promote the local business community in addition to celebrating LGBT community and history.

At Cedar Rapids, CR Pride takes the form of a “poster parade”. Participants submit a poster with the theme “Color our world with pride” and illustrate what their float would look like in a traditional parade. The companies partnered with CR Pride to hang the posters on their windows, creating an improvised parade route.

“We will be hanging them in Czech Village and NewBo so the community can enjoy their free time and watch, and maybe stop off at the business, June 1-15,” said Corey Jacobson, Chairman of the Board. directors of CR Pride.

Flags hang July 8, 2017 at the Libertarian booth at Cedar Rapids Pride Fest at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids. Organizers are hosting a “poster parade” this year and are planning to host a picnic this fall. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette).

SUX Pride also draws people to local businesses. The two-day event began with a night out in historic Sioux City – three blocks from restaurants, bars and antique shops.

“We’re actually trying to get the community to come and support these businesses because they’ve been so heavily impacted by COVID,” McCulley said. “They’re literally hesitant about whether they’ll be able to stay open or not, so we’re trying to get the LGBT community out.”

Legislative session throws the veil

Pride Month this year comes just weeks after lawmakers concluded an overtime legislative session that included 15 bills flagged by advocacy groups as anti-LGBT. In the final weeks of the session, it looked like lawmakers could impose a restriction on trans athletes as well, as requested by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

None of the bills were passed and the session ended without any transgender athlete ban being introduced. Despite this, some organizers said the political climate has changed their approach to pride this year.

A parade makes its way on June 15, 2019 through Washington Street during the 49th annual Iowa City Pride Festival. The city’s pride celebration marked its 50th anniversary last year – but events have been called off due to the pandemic. (Ben Roberts / Independent)

Iowa City will host a community pride march in October, rather than a traditional parade. Last year was the 50th anniversary of the city’s first pride celebration, festival director Lisa Skriver said, but this year will serve as a celebration. The theme: “Our pride, we will maintain it.”

“We’ve really done a lot with equality and rights, but there are still tons of anti-trans and anti-LGBT laws presented to the Iowa legislature this year,” Skriver said. “So we want people to realize that this is not something you can take for granted.”

Skriver said the march was not a formal event, but organizers hope to honor the spirit of the first pride. The first pride celebrations were held in 1970 to commemorate a 1969 showdown between LGBT attendees at the Stonewall Inn bar and New York City police.

“Go back to the story of where it started and keep fighting,” Skriver said. “But it’s also going to be a lot of fun.”

In Sioux City, Mackey said the pride festivities will not focus on legislative efforts. The September picnic will feature all the usual activities, from LGBT story time to “drag races” in high heels and women’s clothing. But separately, the Siouxland Pride Alliance is launching its first-ever LGBT youth support group, a move driven in part by the political climate in Iowa.

“I think part of it is the things kids go through in school now, and when you have your state legislature doing things like that, it poisons the well for everyone,” he said. she declared.

CR Pride at Cedar Rapids is a non-partisan nonprofit, but organizer Jacobson said the organization is trying to publicize the state’s proposed LGBT policies. Community members can use this information however they want, he said.

“It’s unfortunate to see the emphasis of the state legislature,” Jacobson said. “We are working to make sure people know they are loved and accepted for who they are, and that they still have a place in our community.”

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Shipment.

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