Iowa City Queer Exchange group helps LGBTQ Iowa Citians feel safe, provides resources

The Iowa City Queer Exchange Facebook group was created in 2016 and has over 900 members.


Kate Heston

Amanda Green, Cole Green, Knox Green, Lisa Skriver, Danielle Barefoot, Chelsea Green, and Iowa City Queer Exchange admin Claire Czerwionka pose for a portrait at City Park in Iowa City during a Pride pool party on June 19, 2021.

Sabine Martin, News Editor

When Claire Czerwionka moved back to Iowa City from Chicago, she noticed the absence of an inclusive online group for the LGBTQ community. Czerwionka was part of the Chicago Queer Exchange Facebook group.

Czerwionka, a social worker and active member in the local LGBTQ community who hosts drag shows at Iowa City’s Studio 13 nightclub, decided to create a safe online space for queer Iowa Citians. She founded the Iowa City Queer Exchange Facebook group in 2016, which now has over 900 members.

“We post on there and try to keep members up-to-date on current and future Pride events or things about LGBTQ-friendly businesses around Iowa City, and just kind of create a safe and inclusive environment so that, you know, people can get their needs met,” she said.

Czerwionka said the group has helped the local LGBTQ community find safe dentist locations, nail salons, and Facebook Marketplace trades.

“The group also functions as kind of a Craigslist, because sometimes folks, especially folks who are trans, get anxious about just showing up somewhere to buy a couch,” Czerwionka said.

Iowa City Queer Exchange member Frankie Kuehnle joined the group soon after it was created. Kuehnle, an Instructional Track Lecturer at the University of Iowa College of Nursing, has used their health care background to help members of the group find health-related recommendations like doctor referrals and dentists.

“Since I’ve lived here, it feels like I have a decent amount of knowledge of the area, so if somebody is moving and looking for a place, I like that I can point people to safer places,” Kuehnle said.

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The group allows people from rural communities, who might be more isolated, to have access to LGBTQ resources, they added.

Katie James, another member, said she joined the group when she was looking for an LGBTQ-friendly dentist office for her family.

“It’s sad that our group kind of has to exist, but I’m really glad that it does,” James said. “It would be really nice if all dentists knew how to respect pronouns.”

James, who works at a clothing store, said she refers members of the Iowa City Queer Exchange to places they can reliably shop in the area.

“People will say, ‘Hey, I’m a trans-femme person and I’m looking to start wearing bras, and I am scared to go somewhere, does anybody know where I can go and try on bras and not feel self-conscious?’”

Since the founding of the Iowa City Queer Exchange, a Des Moines equivalent was created a year later, in 2017. Nationally, there are groups such as Queer Exchange New York, Queer Exchange Minneapolis and St. Paul, Queer Exchange Boston, and Queer Exchange Philly, along with many others.

Czerwionka said the Iowa City area needs more BIPOC and LGBTQ public and family-centered businesses and events.

“I think there are periodic attempts to cater to BIPOC folks, but nothing consistent,” Czerwionka said. “People say a lot that we miss opportunities for family-friendly events and so that’s something that I’ve been committed to.”