Conservative Iowa City to Host First Gay Pride Festival

by Foluké Tuakli and Associated Press /  / Updated 
In this Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 photo, front row from left, organizers of OC Pride, Steve Mahr, Cody Bauer; back row from left, Mike Goll and David Klennert pose for a photo in Orange City, Iowa. The community, well known for its conservative values, is now hosting its first gay pride festival.
In this Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 photo, front row from left, organizers of OC Pride, Steve Mahr, Cody Bauer; back row from left, Mike Goll and David Klennert pose for a photo in Orange City, Iowa. The community, well known for its conservative values, is now hosting its first gay pride festival.Justin Wan / AP

A conservative city in northwest Iowa is hosting its inaugural festival to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.

Orange City, which has a population of about 6,200, will host the three-day OC Pride 2017 event starting Friday.

The event is the brainchild of newlyweds Mike Goll and David Klennert and two of Goll's longtime college friends, Steve Mahr and Cody Bauer, both of whom are straight allies.

“We started small, because it is a baby pride, but we hope to continue and grow” Goll, who said they expect about 200 people to attend, told NBC News.

The festival will include dancing, live music, a movie screening, information booths, storytelling and brunch. Goll is particularly excited about the festival's "Stories From the Edge" event, where people who have felt like outcasts and outsiders are invited to share their stories.

“I’m excited about the networking," Goll added. He also said he's looking forward to shedding light on the community and letting LGBTQ youth in Orange City know, "Hey it gets better. You can be a fully functioning adult, and you’re fine just the way you are.”

Goll said he hopes straight allies and members of the Orange City business community also attend the event and show their support.

In this Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 photo, David Klennert, left, and Cody Bauer, two of the organizers of OC Pride, discuss the significance of hosting the pride festival during an interview in Orange City, Iowa.
In this Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 photo, David Klennert, left, and Cody Bauer, two of the organizers of OC Pride, discuss the significance of hosting the pride festival during an interview in Orange City, Iowa. Justin Wan / AP

Mahr — a straight ally, a business owner and one of the event's organizers — owns Town Square Coffeehouse and Kitchen, where several OC Pride 2017 events will occur.

“Our coffee shop strives to be a place for everyone in our community to gather and engage one another,” Mahr said. “This first Orange City pride event is a way for us to open our doors and create a safe space for the LGBT community to celebrate and feel encourage and supported.”

While the event's organizers said the response to the festival has been largely positive, some critics have voiced their concerns.

Sioux County Conservatives, a political group, has criticized the event for celebrating what they believe the Bible classifies as a sin. And on Wednesday, State Representative Skyler Wheeler echoed the group's sentiments, urging residents not to attend “events that promote sin."

“We’re all so overwhelmed with a lot of love and a lot of support. It seems there are few angry voices —a couple here and there — but mostly people are really curious and give us nothing but well wishes,” Goll said.

The pride organizers want to make OC Pride a recurring cultural event, similar to the city's annual Festival Latino, which celebrates Latin culture, and the Orange City Tulip Festival, which showcases Dutch influences on the local customs.

“We already have plans for next year, and we’re hoping to build upon the momentum that we started this year and just keep it going," Goll said.

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