The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Inside of Iowa City’s Big Queer Dating Show

Last year, the Big Queer Dating Show at PS1 was a hit in both the older and younger queer communities of Iowa City. This year’s event was even bigger.
Ava Neumaier
Eventgoers mingle during the Big Queer Dating Show at Public Space One on Saturday, Feb. 24th, 2024, in Iowa City. (Ava Neumaier/The Daily Iowan)

There’s a general trend seen in modern dating shows: straightness. From shows like “The Bachelor,” where several women are vying for the attention of a single man, to “Love Island,” where stereotypically hot men and women resist getting together, queer representation is limited.

While there’s sometimes a tokenized LGBTQ+ relationship in these shows, this cookie-cutter template is a frequent occurrence.

The LGBTQ+ Iowa Archives and Library is changing that trend.

Public Space One was transformed into the set of the bachelor as rose petals covered the floors, the walls lined with heart banners, and red ambient light filled the room.

Based on corny television programs, like “The Dating Game,” the show had a host, a bachelor or bachelorette, and three potential suitors. The twist at this event? All the contestants were from the LGTBQ+ community.

“To me, what I think of what it means to actively build a community, it’s the same way you go about making friends: What do you want to do with your friends on a Saturday night?” Finn Angelos, a LIAL volunteer, said. “The most fun thing we could picture is the queer-ification of stupid TV.”

The music throughout the house at Iowa City’s “Big Queer Dating Show” played upbeat bedroom pop before the show began, supplementing the romantic ambience.

As volunteers for the LGBTQ+ Iowa Archives and Library, an Iowa City-based organization dedicated to preserving the LGBTQ+ history of their community, Kat Bonny and Angelos are firsthand witnesses to what they cite as a lack of uplifting, queer-oriented spaces in Iowa.

They noted that, most often, LGBTQ+-focused gatherings come in the form of either protests or vigils.

“This is a time when we really need to establish a community and establish a safe space for all ages,” Bonny said. “There’s a giant queer community outside of the university that doesn’t [attend] those events because they don’t want to hang out with a bunch of 18-year-olds.”

Additionally, Bonny noticed the safe spaces are usually only occupied following tragedies within the queer community.

“There’s more than one way to protest,” Bonny said. “Celebrating queerness openly and publicly is a form of rebellion that creates optimism. We need to be reminded what we’re fighting for.”

Zachary Morris, the outreach and programming coordinator for the LGBTQ+ library, highlighted another issue they feel affects the queer community at large: The lack of inclusive spaces has led to a culture of online dating that doesn’t foster long-term connections.

“I’ve been [in Iowa City] for five years and I was on dating apps for a long time,” Morris explained. “They’re very based on looks and sex.”

Last year, Angelos brought an idea to Morris they felt had the potential to both decentralize the largely digital queer dating scene and increase attendance at the LGBTQ+ library’s events: A dating show they named “The Big Queer Dating Show.”

The show’s concept was among the first of its kind in the LGBTQ+ community, let alone within Iowa City.

 “We don’t have this kind of thing as queer people. We don’t have prom, we don’t have dating shows,” Angelos said. “It’s not something we have access to in the way straight people or gender-presenting people do.”

When Morris and their team piloted the event in November 2023 with a “Devils and Angels” theme, they weren’t sure what to expect. At one point before the event started, Angelos and Bonny, dressed head-to-toe in eccentric costumes, worried no one would show up.

However, to their complete surprise, people did — and tenfold.

“People started filing in. Then more people came in,” Angelos said. “Then Zachary came in and told me there’s a line around the block.”

As active members of many LGBTQ+ spaces in Iowa City, Angelos, Bonny, and Morris were shocked when they looked out onto the sea of nearly 100 attendees and saw at least 50 new faces.

This year’s event was a similar success, hosted on the night of Feb. 24 at Public Space One’s Close House.

The event began around 8:30 p.m. By then, 50 people had already turned up to watch the dating show. The show event brought in people of all identities and all ages, a feat uncharacteristic of most queer events in Iowa City.

“Surely many genderqueer people exist in Iowa, but a lot of them are hidden or hide themselves because of the political climate,” Bonny explained. “So to see everyone in their truest form, respecting everyone’s pronouns, sexualities, and lifestyles — it was really beautiful.”

Before the event began, however, they noticed that older individuals were weary, glued to the back of the Public Space One Close House and mingling only among themselves, while the younger attendees occupied the front where the action was happening.

The space felt fractured, Angelos shared, as it so often did in other queer spaces.

They came prepared, however, to challenge this divide.

Instead of relying on audience members to nominate themselves as contestants, they drew all consenting attendees’ names at random.

Through a combination of upbeat energy, raunchy humor, and a genuine emphasis on finding true connection, the dating show became an instant hit in the community.

“At the end of the night — I swear to God — everyone had known everyone,” Angelos said.

The room had four chairs set up in the front with one chair separated from the other three by a cloth screen.

When the show began, three contestants were chosen: Two were picked beforehand and one an audience member. Then, the main bachelor was guided out while their eyes were blindfolded so they could not see who the contestants were.

Angelos and Bonny started asking three contestants a variety of comedic questions, which ranged from “What would you make the bachelor for breakfast?” to “What is your most recent porn search?”

The bachelor then gave a rose to who they thought supplied the best answers to the questions.

 “I had no idea what to expect, but it felt like a party,” said UI student and contestant number three, Brianna Bowers, who was picked from the crowd at random.

Applauded consistently for their quirky quips and one-liners, contestant one was deliberately chosen by the bachelor.

“It went really well, it felt like a celebration, and everyone was having fun with it,” Bonny said, reminiscing after the show had ended. “We sure hope to do the [Queer Dating Show] again next year.”

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About the Contributors
Avi Lapchick
Avi Lapchick, Arts Editor
Avi Lapchick is an arts editor at The Daily Iowan. A fourth-year student studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa, she previously held the positions of staff photojournalist, summer arts editor, and assistant arts editor at the DI. She is happiest when she is writing or painting.
Ava Neumaier
Ava Neumaier, Photojournalist
Ava Neumaier is a first-year student at the University of Iowa, majoring in English & Creative Writing. She was the Editor-in-Chief of her high school yearbook in New York, and has interned for a New York Times photographer. She enjoys taking pictures of performances and student life.