Iowa City Pride 2023: Vendors share what pride means to them

Vendors advocated for suicide prevention, transgender rights, and more at the 2023 Iowa City Pride festival. 


Cody Blissett

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

Zhenya Loughney, Arts Reporter 

Celebrating Pride is an important way many LGBTQ+ individuals and allies display their identities in support of one another in their shared communities. Pride is a safe space for all types of individuals to freely express themselves. This year’s Iowa City Pride Festival was exactly that and more. 

Iowa City Pride was held in downtown Iowa City on June 17, stretching from Johnson to Clinton Street. Vendors, performances, information centers, and activities lined the streets for attendees to enjoy. 

“Pride started out as a riot and a march against oppression,” said Jaye Wilson, an Iowa City Pride attendee. “I saw a lot of that spirit today in the parade and in the community. That is inspiring to me, because it’s important, especially with the political climate these days, as our rights are being taken away, that we harness that energy and it’s amazing to see such a turnout.”

The Iowa City Pride parade began at 12 p.m. Notable parade participants included the Capitol City Roller Derby skating down the street; members from the Iowa City Public Library chanting “Censorship has got to go;” members of Vegans for Life with signs reading “Nothing humane happens in the slaughterhouse”; as well as Mr. and Mrs. Iowa City waving from a sports car. There were 55 additional organizations marching. 

The performances at the pride festival showcased and represented many types of genres and genders. Local singer-songwriter Mars Hojilla opened after the parade ended with two songs surrounding his trans identity. 

Emily Silliman, an Iowa Democrats volunteer urging attendees to register to vote, spoke about why Pride is a special place for her and her family. 

“I’m a lifelong Democrat. People should be who they want to be. My daughter identifies queer, and it wouldn’t matter either way. We [Iowa Democrats] just want to show our support and cry and celebrate everybody and be part of the fun,” Silliman said. 

The focus for several vendors this year was on mental health, suicide prevention, and providing services for transgender youth.

“We want everybody to feel welcome,” said Abbey Ferenzi, executive director of GuideLink Center in Iowa City. “We also know that individuals who are struggling with a crisis or stress or anything, they want to know that somebody’s going to help them that is willing to be supportive and to listen to them, passing judgment, and to just be there for them.” 

Ferenzi spoke about the importance of organizations like their own at events like Iowa City Pride.

“We’re here today, not only representing how important mental health and substance use services are, but also wanting to make sure that everyone is part of the Pride festival and part of the community that we share,” Ferenzi said. 

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Ryan Dickson, director of the crisis helpline at Community Crisis Services (CCS) said that on Monday, June 19, CCS is implementing a brand new LGBTQIA+ youth-specific hotline in collaboration with 988 for queer kids in Iowa City to feel better supported. 

“Everyone is deserving of respect and love, no matter their background or their walk of life. And that’s what we represent. We recognize that things are especially difficult for members of the LGBTQ+ population,” Dixon said. “We want to come out and show people that they are deserving of love and respect and we’re here to help do whatever they need.”

United Action for Youth, a Johnson County non-profit providing programming for LGBTQ+ youth was represented by Tim Grady, a mental health counselor, who spoke on why their organization is instrumental for Johnson County youth.

“Young people here are feeling the pain from state-level laws involving health care for trans people and resources at school and everything else,” Grady said. “We need young people to know that not every adult is letting them down and that some of us have their back and then we will always be there to support them. And what better way to do a thing to enjoy ourselves together over the weekend.”

Iowa City Pride 2023 was a place where any individual could freely and safely strut as who they are. The community displayed a warm sense of togetherness that will continue to thrive throughout pride month and the rest of the year.