Iowa City: Ahead of the Curve for the LGBTQ Community

Long lauded for its progressiveness, Iowa City attracts members of the LGBTQ community as a destination for its gay nightlife, well-established PrideFest, and multitude of cultural opportunities. The Advocate has listed Iowa City among the “Gayest Cities in America” for being infused with intellectual curiosity. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation scored Iowa City a 112 out of 100 on the 2021 Municipal Equality Index (MEI) Scorecard.

Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, executive director of One Iowa, stated to Thrillist, “The town has absolutely been a trailblazer for civil rights in Iowa. The first female attorney admitted to a state bar in America was in Iowa City. It’s just got a good legacy of advancement and it’s been ahead of the curve for the LGBTQ movement.” Thrillist lists Iowa City as the “most gay friendly city in Iowa.”

One year after the Stonewall Riots, Iowa City residents established what is now Iowa City PrideFest…making it one of the oldest and longest running Pride events of its kind not only in the Midwest, but in the nation.

A brief history of LGBTQ events in Iowa City (Source:

Love at Pride Cozy at Big Grove

1967: The Iowa Defender, an alternative newspaper, publishes a ground-breaking article, “Lesbianism in Iowa City.”

1970: Gay Liberation Front at the University of Iowa becomes the first gay student group in the United States to be officially recognized by a university. The organization’s entry in the 1970 homecoming parade kicks off what is now Iowa City PrideFest.

1971: A women’s center serving as a meeting place and clearinghouse for women’s activities opens.

1973: The Lesbian Alliance is formed and later works within the Women’s Resource and Action Center as the lesbian voice for programs such as The Rape Victim Advocacy Program, Domestic Violence Project, and Take Back the Night.

1975: The Midwest Gay Pride Conference in Iowa City attracts 800 attendees.

1977: Iowa City’s city council passes the state’s first anti-discrimination ordinance to include sexual preference.

1978: The Iowa Legislature enacts a comprehensive criminal code revision which repeals the consensual sodomy law. The law takes effect 25 years before the US Supreme Court strikes down Texas’ sodomy law as unconstitutional.

1978: Gay Affiliates of Iowa, Iowa’s first stateside gay rights advocacy organization, is founded in Iowa City.

1984: The Gay People’s Union at the University of Iowa educate gay men about HIV/AIDS.

1985: University of Iowa approves a campus-wide policy banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

1986: Bev Arthur and Martin Arthur co-author the book “Mama’s Boy” chronicling Martin’s coming out as a gay man based on a letter he wrote in 1974 as a student at the University of Iowa.

1991: Domestic partner benefits are extended to same-sex couples employed by the University of Iowa and becomes the first public university in the nation to implement such benefits.

2009: Iowa becomes the third state in the US to legalize same-sex marriage.  Among the plaintiffs who successfully challenged the state are Dawn and Jen BarbouRoske of Iowa City.

Insanely Curious