Orange City, Iowa activists plan the town’s first gay pride festival

Oct 18, 2017

Silence, suppression and shame—Mike Goll knows them well.

Goll is gay in a conservative corner of the state where homosexuality is viewed as a choice, at best, and a sin, at worst. But the days of silence are behind him. Now, he’s raising his voice, saying, “We’re queer, and we’re still here.”

He is one of four organizers for the first-ever OC Pride.

The three-day event will kick off with live music at the Town Square Coffee House in Orange City on Friday. A variety of activities are planned for Saturday, including a storytelling session and a showing of “To Wong Foo,” a 1995 comedy film about three New York drag queen heading out to Hollywood for a beauty pageant. OC Pride concludes on Sunday with brunch.

“Not to speak for all the gays, but brunch is an important part of our culture,” Goll said with a laugh. “Or at least I think so. In building OC Pride, it was important that we have a Sunday brunch.”

He’s embraced who he is. But before he came out in college, he’d been struggling and seeking counseling and what he called “de-gayification efforts.”

“If you were experiencing—what you’ll hear a lot is—same-sex attraction, you were encouraged to basically butch it up. Watch war movies with your dad. Or wear plaid and pleated khakis. Consider what you’re wearing. Who is it trying to impress? What is every intention that you have? What music do you listen to? How does it make you feel? So it’s really reprogramming yourself.”

He added that those attitudes are dangerous and potentially damaging to kids. LGBT youth are at greater risk for depression, suicide, substance use and homelessness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

OC Pride is focused on raising awareness for LGBT issues and letting people know they are not alone.

Planning the event, Goll has Cody Bauer standing beside him as an ally. They were roommates at Northwestern College about 10 years ago and currently work together at Staples, which is one of four OC Pride business partners.

“Probably one of the biggest challenges that we’re facing so far is finding business partners who are willing to put their name out there and say, yes, we support this event,” Bauer said.

They’re worried about losing customers. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Iowa since 2009. However, that ruling did little to shift public opinion in Sioux County, which is the most conservative county in Iowa.

Being gay in a heavily religious community still carries a stigma, and the event organizers know it.

“If what we do here in Orange City gives one kid in this area hope—if it gives one kid in this area a little spark in their mind that may help them understand that they are okay, they don’t have to be somebody else, you’re okay being who you are—any and all backlash that comes with it will be totally worth it,” Bauer said.

Goll has gone through some trying times to find hope. His family looks much different today than what was modeled for him years ago.

He got married last year. His husband, Dave, is also one of the organizers for OC Pride, along with the Town Square Coffee House owner, Steve Mahr.

Goll has been surprised by the community support in and outside of Orange City. The Siouxland Pride Alliance and the Siouxland Community Health Center from Sioux City will have information booths set up at the coffee shop on Saturday afternoon. And Goll was a bit starstruck when Martina Shakers, a Sioux City drag queen, commented on the event page, asking about entertainment and offering support.

“Seeing these little groups come together or at least help each other—like a family that we kind of are—that’s been really powerful,” he said. “I feel like just being here and having an event sheds some light on a community that doesn’t get a lot of light.”

There are those who would like to see the event cancelled.

One person commented on Facebook, “It is almost unbelievable that Orange City thinks this is something to display with pride. I sincerely pray that the OC Council, church leaders and serious Christians have the conviction and courage to speak out, hopefully with strong numbers, and stop it before it happens.”

The Sioux County Conservatives’ Facebook page shared the OC Pride event and described it as a “festival celebrating sin.”

Goll is used to hearing these kinds of things.

“When I was a kid, I grew up in a pretty religious, conservative family, where if Will & Grace was on, the channel was turned. Or if movies had gay people, the channel was turned,” he said. “It was never hatin’ on the gays, but the subtext was—this is bad. This is really bad. So I felt bad.”

He never heard and saw the LGBT community cast in a positive light until he went to a pride parade in the Twin Cities. Something that struck him was seeing churches saying, “We love you. You’re welcome here.”

“I started bawling because this is not something people experience in northwest Iowa or in a lot of places in the country,” he said. “Even just being a few of us now, celebrating pride, celebrating life and love, that’s huge. Huge… Pride is bringing family together. Pride is being welcome. Pride is love.”