Unity March flocks Iowa City streets

The Iowa City Unity March, a Pride event promoting LGBTQ+ rights, returned for its 50th anniversary, demonstrating diversity and solidarity after last year’s cancellation.


Grace Smith

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague speaks during the 50th Iowa City Pride Festival held by Iowa City Pride on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. While speaking, Teague mentioned the challenges of 2020 including he and his husband not being able to have their wedding. “Let me tell you something about love. Love can stand the test of time.”

Anthony Neri, News Reporter

A crowd gathered at College Green Park for the first Iowa City Pride festival community march on Saturday.

Marchers flocked down Iowa Avenue and made their way to the intersection of Linn Street and Washington Street, where house music singer Robin Stone performed a dazzling opener.

Before festivities began, Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague addressed a brightly dressed crowd on the main stage and expressed his excitement for the massive turnout to raucous applause.

“Isn’t this a happy day?” he said. “It’s not just happy, it is awesome and amazing … I am swelling with so much great joy right now. I am honored to be here today and to stand here with all of you in solidarity in the celebration for the 50th year of Iowa City Pride.” 

He expressed strong support for all LGBTQ+ people, as the first openly gay Black mayor of Iowa City.

Teague honored various groups from LGBTQ+ history for making the celebration possible. He said people should learn about LGBTQ+ history to know where the community has been and where it’s going.

Teague listed landmarks in Iowa City’s LGBTQ+ history, including an article on lesbianism in Iowa City published in an alternative newspaper in 1967, the formation of the Iowa City Women’s Liberation Front in 1969, and the University of Iowa’s Gay Liberation Front marching in the 1970 homecoming parade.

“There’s a lot we have to be prideful for right here in Iowa City,” Teague said. 

Teague said an event like Iowa City Pride would not have happened 50 years ago in “little old Iowa.” Although the LGBTQ+ community still faces hardships, he said, it is worthwhile to proudly reflect on how far it has come.

“They took the first step out of the closet and into the streets,” he said. “[I am] prideful that we have, right here in Iowa City, LGBTQ+ organizations, businesses, married couples — folks that are just being themselves.”

Senior Pastor of Sanctuary Community Church, Adey Wassink, said she and other members of her church were annoyed at decisions that they previously made, which they thought adhered to the Bible, against their own hearts. For this reason, her church became “fully inclusive” in 2016.

“We had to compromise what we felt in our heart was right in order to be faithful to a tradition,” Wassink said. “And we started having lots of friends and lots of gay worshippers come into our church, who we did not feel right saying, ‘You can’t enjoy the same rights and privileges that we have, but you’re welcome to sit in our pews.’”

Wassink said her church was marching to counter the positions of other churches that hold a perspective antithetical to their own. 

“You can absolutely love God, you can absolutely read the scriptures and still have an inclusive experience and love everybody,” Wassink said.

The diverse range of groups that marched are a testament to the name change that Andy Owens, secretary of Iowa City Pride, said was made to account for the “many issues affecting everybody right now.” The event encompassed Black Lives Matter, people affected by the pandemic, and queer people, he said.

Other organizations, such as Moms Demand Action, a national group against gun violence, also marched. A member of the group, Tricia Zebrowski, said the group’s presence was a part of the larger fight against hate crimes, such as the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida in 2016.

Zebrowski said it is important to recognize the Unity March as not just a celebration, but a call to stand against hate.

“I think it is more inclusive, it’s more focused on the main topic, which is unity and support and not just a big party,” she said.

Janice Elkerton, who took part in the march, said, “Pride means being happy with who I am and supporting those who have had journeys similar to mine, journeys of their own, you know, celebrating happiness.”

Giovanni Rosati and Edmer Lazaro, a couple who recently moved to Iowa City from San Francisco, said it was exciting to see people from such different backgrounds unite.

“We come in all shapes and colors and styles and lifestyles and races and income status,” Rosati said. “It’s a very diverse group of people.”

Elkerton said she hopes the celebration makes people recognize that LGBTQ+ people are a part of society, deserve to be seen, and play important roles like anyone else. 

“I am marching because I just came out two months ago and I’m here with my girlfriend and I’m happy I can be out and support pride and be a happy human being,” she said. 

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