Behind the scenes of Iowa City Pride 2023 

As pride month continues to be celebrated across the nation, organizations in Iowa City create their own joy in the community.


Cody Blissett

Iowa City residents walk the parade route during the 2023 Pride Parade & Festival in downtown Iowa City on Saturday, June 17, 2023.

Emma Gaughan , Arts Reporter

Full of joy and rainbow flags, celebrations of queer pride have long been celebrated through the month of June — even if it was only nationally designated as “LGBTQ+ Pride” in 2021. There are numerous ways that one can celebrate pride month: going to a parade, watching a drag show, or any of the many other events that occur throughout the month. Many of these events are large-scale and require work and organization to be successful. 

Iowa City Pride is the organization that puts on the Iowa City pride festival every year, but they do a lot more than just the festival. Iowa City Pride was formally founded in 1970 by a group of students as a reaction to what they saw happening across the country. Now, Iowa City Pride allows the community to come together for many events throughout the year, not just during pride month. 

Nighttime Mayor for the Iowa City Downtown District and Iowa City Pride Board President Joe Reilly shared that, especially regarding the festival, making sure there is enough space is incredibly important. There needs to be enough space for vendors, performers, and attendees, as well as keeping the fire lanes open. Reilly also added that the organization also did not want to have too much space, and block off city streets that they will not end up needing. 

“Sometimes you really need to check yourself as an event producer because you’re impacting other people’s business and how people can access downtown,” Reilly said. “So really ask yourself, ‘Is this street closure necessary? Do I need this block?’”

Iowa City Pride partners with multiple organizations including FilmScene and the Englert Theater to hold events throughout the month. There are many ways for the community to get involved, and Iowa City Pride is always looking for volunteers to help set up events. 

This year’s theme for the pride festival was “Stronger Together,” a message that speaks to the love and power of community. In light of recent legislation and attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, especially the transgender community, Iowa City Pride wanted to spread a message that each member of the community is valued and important. 

“What we realized over this last year is, I think we kind of fell asleep at the wheel and thought we had everything figured out and nothing could go wrong,” Reilly said. “And then, all sudden, it kind of swings back the other way and you realize you need all these people in our community.”

Reilly shared that protesters are common at the pride festival and other events, but that it is best to ignore them to avoid escalating the situation. Other pride events also experience protestors, including “drag story times” hosted by the Iowa City Public Library. 

RELATED: Iowa City Pride 2023 aims to foster community strength

“We were really surprised that we had maybe about 20 adults there without children who were there in protestation of their protesting the event, and we really hadn’t planned for anything like that to happen,” said Mari Redington, the children’s services assistant at Iowa City Public Library, about a drag story time they hosted last year. This year, they made sure to plan for it. 

This pride month, drag story time took place at an event called “Pride at the Pool” at Upper City Park Pool on June 16, and Redington wanted to make sure that they could safely hold this event while avoiding disruptions from protesters. The main goal was to make sure that eventgoers felt safe. 

Aside from planning for protestors, a lot more goes into planning a drag story time. Redington shared that her main goal when planning any story time is to spread literacy and diversity, which she feels makes drag story times a great event. 

“It’s always a very joyful story time. We do a lot of dancing and read some really great books,” Redington said. “There are some awesome books out there that show, LGBTQ+ families or recognize the huge strides in social justice that the Pride festival is all about promoting. And we have a really fun book about drag queens and what they are all about.”