Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Iowa Pride Network hires Outreach Coordinator

DES MOINES— Iowa Pride Network has hired Rachel Johnson as its Outreach Coordinator. Johnson, a Dubuque native, will be responsible for enhancing Iowa Pride Network’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth leadership and organizing projects and broadening the network’s outreach, with an emphasis on Western Iowa.

“Rachel possesses an outstanding advocacy and organizing track record,” stated Ryan Roemerman, Iowa Pride Network Director. “We’re excited to bring her on board. Her unique skill sets are exactly what the network needs in this time of growth.”

Johnson graduated in May with a B.A. in Electronic Media from the University of Northern Iowa; where she served as President of the university’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).

As an undergrad, Johnson spoke at a number of state and regional conferences on topics ranging from organizing for social change to sustaining GSAs on high school and college campuses. Johnson also organized and participated in over one-hundred LGBT student panels for staff, students and community members and helped increase participation and funding for the GSA and its events through innovative programming and outreach.

“I have a strong sense of responsibility to educate and motivate LGBT students to work for equality in their communities. I am excited to take on this role and look forward to networking and empowering students to create change,” stated Johnson.

Iowa Pride Network’s Outreach Coordinator position has been made possible with funding in part by the Liberty Hill Foundation’s Queer Youth Fund, a fund that makes multi-year grants to grassroots, local, state, or national nonprofit organizations working to improve the quality of life among LGBTQA youth.

To find out more about the Iowa Pride Network, visit:

To find out more about the Liberty Hill Foundation, visit:

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Iowa State University, Johnston High School named Iowa’s “Best Gay-Straight Alliances”

(Des Moines) Iowa State University and Johnston High School were presented with Iowa Pride Network’s Award for Best Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at the Annual Matthew Shepard Scholarship Awards Dinner held at Hotel Fort Des Moines.

The Iowa Pride Network Awards go to GSAs that have shown a committed effort to raising awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues on their campuses and in their communities and have pioneered programs that have increased the respect of LGBT people. Each application is evaluated on five categories: Education, Programming, Advocacy, Outreach and Community Service with consideration given to the impact their GSA programs and initiatives have on the climate and culture of their community.

“Both award-winning GSAs have significantly impacted the climate and culture of their campuses and communities,” stated Ryan Roemerman, Iowa Pride Network Director.

Iowa State University Alliance saw resurgence in membership and visibility due to a controversial measure, known as the Student Organization Recognition Policy. The proposed policy would have allowed various religious groups to discriminate within their membership based on sexual orientation. The Alliance created a coalition of student organizations to take on the discriminatory proposal. Paper and online petitions were created and protests and rallies were held to mobilize students.

Marcia Purdy, a member of the LGBT Student Service Advisory Board stated, “In the eight years of my involvement, even the Advisory Board has not been able to impact the policy and decision making of ISU administration in such a positive manner.” Alliance’s efforts to defeat the proposal paid off: Iowa State University adopted a new proposal with specific language saying that discrimination against student groups will not be tolerated.

Johnston High School’s GSA was almost not allowed to form. Students faced continual resistance from school administrators who made it clear that they were treating the GSA differently from other groups and that they were afraid that the club was only about recruiting students into the “gay lifestyle”. For weeks, the application of the GSA was denied or required extra paperwork. When it became clear that the school was trying to put up road-blocks, students met with the Iowa Pride Network and the ACLU of Iowa. After the ACLU of Iowa sent the school a letter, the school changed its tone and allowed the GSA.

“Johnston GSA was chosen not just because of how well the students exercised their rights as students while under extreme pressure, but also because of the amount of quality programming, outreach and advocacy the group was able to produce within half a year,” stated Roemerman.

In addition to hosting weekly meetings that attracted nearly two-dozen students, the group also lead educational presentations on gay-marriage, discrimination in schools and transgender issues. The group was exceptional at outreach, at one point having over five schools from the metro area attending meetings.

“Both groups exemplified what model high school and college GSAs should do—especially in light of opposition—and how important it is for students to know their rights,” added Roemerman.

Iowa Pride Network to receive $100,000 grant from Liberty Hill Foundation

DES MOINES— Iowa Pride Network has received a $100,000 grant from the Liberty Hill Foundation’s Queer Youth Fund, a fund that makes multi-year grants to grassroots, local, state, or national nonprofit organizations working to improve the quality of life among gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (GLBTQQ) youth.

“We’re extremely thankful to be selected as one of this year’s recipients. This will allow us to broaden the scope of our leadership development and student organizing projects; and better meet the needs of Iowa’s GLBTQQ youth by hiring a full-time Outreach Coordinator,” stated Ryan Roemerman, Iowa Pride Network Director.

The Queer Youth Fund awards grants to innovative and effective leadership development programs or organizing projects that empower GLBTQQ youth to improve societal conditions affecting GLBTQQ youth and which make a long-term difference to their movement. A group of committed donors developed the fund to provide large multi-year grants to groups that address the multitude of issues queer youth face as they acknowledge and celebrate their sexuality and identity, and seek to become empowered leaders in their communities.

Other 2006-2007 grantees include:
Peter Cicchino Youth Project in New York City where the grant will be used to support their Juvenile Justice Reform Initiative.
Southerners on New Ground in North Carolina, where the grant will be used to create stronger infrastructure for GLBTQQ organizing in the South.
Sylvia Rivera Law Project in New York City where the grant will be used to support their Transgender Youth Initiative.

Iowa Pride Network is currently accepting applications for the Outreach Coordinator position. To find out more, visit Iowa Pride Network’s website at:

To find out more about the Liberty Hill Foundation, visit:

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Students converge at State Capitol; share experiences of harassment and bullying with Lt. Governor

Gay and straight students appeal to lawmakers for protections from harassment and bullying

DES MOINES— Lt. Governor Sally Pederson joined high school and college students at a press conference at the State Capitol today to appeal for safe school policies that would protect students from abuse. The press conference coincided with the Iowa Pride Network College Coalition’s first Student Day at the Capitol. The students meeting with the Lt. Governor revealed how they have personally faced discrimination in their schools due to their sexual orientation.

“Bullying is a form of abuse that no child should have to experience and we need to send the message that such behavior is unacceptable and will be punished,” Pederson said. “Passing anti-bullying legislation is the first step toward making Iowa’s schools safe havens for kids. All students should have the opportunity to live and learn free of harassment so that they can perform to their full potential in the classroom.”

High school students detailed their experiences as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) individual in Iowa schools. Emily Frerichs, a senior at MOC-Floyd-Valley High School in Orange City, explained how her grades slipped because of harassment and having to change in a separate locker room for gym class. “I felt degraded and humiliated and like I was less of a person. I heard several times that people were considering vandalizing my home and car. Now wherever I go, I don't feel safe unless all my car-doors are locked.”

Robert Hayes, a junior at North Tama High School stated that after coming-out, “My life was threatened by a bully. He said that he would trash my car and pound my face in. Unfortunately I had the same bully in my gym class. There were times were I felt like just walking out of the gym and leaving school and not coming back.”

Sara Henriksen, a senior at Waterloo West High School described how she received hate mail in her locker. “As I opened the first note I stood there dumbfounded. I didn't want to believe what I was looking at. On the piece of paper was a picture of Matthew Shepard. His face was in flames and it read "you will perish like Matt Shepard." I then opened the next letter which detailed all the ways a person could, as they say, "take care of a fag." The note listed in detail step by step ways to kill a person.”

Rachel Johnson, UNI student and coalition member stated, “LGBT students are being specifically singled out and targeted for persistent harassment. Therefore, specific legislation protecting LGBT students from the ongoing harassment is vital to ensuring that LGBT students have an equal access to a quality education.”

A recent survey by the Iowa Pride Network revealed that these students’ stories are not just rare occurrences: 92.3% of LGBT students reported hearing homophobic remarks frequently in their schools, 83.3% reported being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 61.2% do not feel safe at school because of their sexual orientation.

The College Coalition brings university and college LGBT student groups together to strengthen LGBT organizations, work to put a human face on the type of adversity that many LGBT youths face, and promote social and political solutions.

The coalition brings together students from numerous Iowa cities, colleges and high schools:

29 cities: Altoona, Ames, Ankeny, Cedar Falls, Clear Lake, Clutier, Council Bluffs, Decorah, Des Moines, Dubuque, Gilbertsville, Grimes, Grinnell, Hubbard, Independence, Indianola, Iowa City, Lamoni, Le Mars, Marshalltown, Melcher, Newton, Orange City, Pella, Pleasant Hill, Rowley, Storm Lake, West Des Moines and Waterloo.

11 Colleges: Buena Vista University, Central College, Drake University, Graceland University, Iowa State University, Loras College, Luther College, Simpson College, University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, Waldorf College and Wartburg College.

14 High Schools: Cedar Falls High School, GrinneIl High School, Independence High School, Lewis Central High School, Marshalltown Senior High School, Melcher-Dallas High School, Meredith Middle School, MOC-Floyd-Valley High School, Newton High School, North Tama High School, Roosevelt High School, Saydel High School, Southeast Polk High School, Waterloo West High School

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Iowa Pride Network Hails Passage of Inclusive Civil Rights Bill

Des Moines, IA – April 26 – Iowa Pride Network applauded legislators today for passing the Civil Rights bill, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Iowa Civil Rights Code. The bi-partisan vote was 59 – 37.

“This is a historic day for Iowa,” stated Ryan Roemerman, Iowa Pride Network Director, “We are pleased that this legislature wants to send a strong message that all people should have the right to get a job, a house or an education free from harassment and bigotry.”

The Civil Rights bill adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the Iowa Civil Rights Code to prohibit discriminatory employment, public accommodation, housing, education and credit practices. The Governor is expected to sign the bill into law.

In early March, Iowa Pride Network’s College Coalition held a press conference with Lt. Governor Patty Judge and Senate Leader Mike Gronstal to advocate for inclusive policies that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iowans from discrimination. Coalition members stated that the effort would attract young people to the state and curb Iowa’s brain-drain.

“This bill affords LGBT Iowans the peace of mind knowing that their state values them and diversity—and that’s an incentive for young people,” said Roemerman.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Gay Youth Become Movement's Ambassadors

The Associated Press
Monday, April 2, 2007

(Sacramento, California) The half-dozen lobbyists who crowded into a lawmaker's office here didn't come bearing slick pitches, campaign cash or votes to swap, just tales of high school torment as fresh as their faces.

Maria Ramos, 18, discussed the academic toll daily doses of name-calling took on her gay and lesbian friends. Andrew Konke, 21, drew parallels between gay rights and earlier civil rights struggles. Ignacio Pitalua, 19, talked about having a trash can dumped on him by other boys who suspected he was gay.

"It's a big obstacle to learning," Pitalua said, pressing Assemblyman Curren Price to co-sponsor a bill that sets specific requirements for schools to protect students from anti-gay discrimination.

Young people, some barely in their teens, are becoming the gay rights movement's newest ambassadors at statehouses from Olympia, Wash., to Montpelier, Vt. Their advocacy, unheard of as recently as a decade ago, reflects the slowly growing acceptance that is emboldening gays and lesbians to come out of the closet while they are coming of age.

"The biggest change that has happened from 10 years or 20 years ago is there are more out people now, from openly gay teachers to openly gay classmates," said

Candace Gingrich, youth outreach coordinator for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights advocacy group. "That awareness and getting that kind of support from your peers makes you stronger, as an individual and as a group, being willing to fight for things and to stand up against harassment."

Veteran activists credit the political participation of gay youth, their straight friends and children of same-sex parents with a string of recent legislative victories, including last month's passage of an anti-bullying bill that provides specific protections gay and lesbian students in Iowa.

The law's adoption came after the Iowa Pride Network issued a report saying more than 83 percent of the state's gay, lesbian and transgender students said they had been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation.

"We kept getting comments from legislators of `There aren't gay kids in Iowa, this is an East and West Coast problem,"' said Ryan Roemerman, the network's director.

The group also arranged a news conference attended by Iowa's lieutenant governor and three students who provided firsthand accounts of discrimination. They included a girl who was kicked out of her Catholic high school after she came out as a lesbian and another who said she wasn't allowed into the locker room to change with other girls.

Brad Anderson, spokesman for Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, said the organized lobbying effort, which also included a 1,000-person rally at Drake University, was "absolutely critical" in getting the legislation approved.

"They added a loud voice, just physically being in the Capitol, and you saw them working all hours of the day lobbying to get this stuff passed," Anderson said.

Lluvia Mulvaney-Stanak, director of Outright Vermont, thinks young people have an advantage when it comes to persuading lawmakers, especially hostile ones, to hear them out. Painful stories of isolation may remind hardened politicians of their own children or awkward adolescence, she said.

"Young people no matter who they are, command this really tangible sense of empathy with adults. We've all been there," Mulvaney-Stanak said. "Maybe we were geeks or the athletes, but when it comes to victims of bullying and harassment, everyone has had a role in that cycle."

Yet the most effective spokespeople are not necessarily gay youth, but the straight students who joined with them to form more than 2,500 high school gay-straight alliance clubs across the country since the early 1990s.

Carolyn Lamb, director of California's Gay-Straight Alliance Network, estimates that up to 40 percent of the 400 high school and college students bused to Sacramento last week for Queer Youth Advocacy Day were not gay, lesbian or transgender.

"Most of the adult-driven (gay) civil rights work doesn't have such large numbers of straight allies who see it as a civil rights cause," she observed.

While previous generations waited well into adulthood before identifying themselves as gay, the average age at which gay children came out to friends and families in 2005 was 13 years and 4 months, according to Caitlin Ryan, a San Francisco State University researcher.