PRIDE supporters color up 7th Street festival

Throngs of people visit vendors along 7th Street between Avenues F and G Thursday at the city's first ever PRIDE event. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

First-ever PRIDE street festival brings in hundreds in full color


FORT MADISON – Despite a welcomed shade cast by Fort Madison’s historic downtown buildings, rainbows appeared all over 7th Street as the city’s first PRIDE festival was held Thursday evening.

Hundreds of people of all ages, from children sporting rainbow clothes and accents to senior citizens mingling with high schoolers, danced and sang on the city block between Avenues G and F from about 4:30 to 9 p.m.

Rory Stark, an 18-year-old from Hamilton, spoke eloquently about how events like this are important to our ever-changing culture.

“Obviously I’m here for Pride. Being gay and trans(gender), I want to show that everyone is loved,” they/them said.

18-year-old Rory Stark dances at Thursday’s PRIDE Festival in Fort Madison. Stark said events like the city’s first-ever festival help spread awareness around the LGBTQ+ culture. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

“I think this is very important, especially in our communities because our younger kids that are gay need spaces to have fun and be told they’re accepted. That’s very important. I’m really glad they are doing things like this.”

They/Them said the time for fear and hatred for the LGBTQ+ community is past and events like Fort Madison’s show people what the culture is truly like.

“Society is to the point now where it’s accepted obviously. But honestly, it’s normalized in today’s culture to be homophobic – transphobic and all this stuff. So I think it’s really good to have these to spread more awareness that we’re not bad people and we’re not here to hate. We’re just here to love and see people,” Stark said.

Danielle Neaves, one of the event organizers was thrilled with the turnout and the atmosphere.

“I’m super excited about the turnout. I’m really happy. We weren’t sure if we were going to have 10 people or a thousand people,” Neaves said.

“We’ve had nothing but positive love and there’s so much happiness and excitement and people have been dancing. It’s been great to see all these people out.”

Dan Dalstra, another event organizer, said people are already talking about future events.

Fort Madison sophomore Bear Schwerin gets some more color added to her outfit at a face painting booth Thursday evening at the city’s first-ever PRIDE festival on 7th Street in downtown Fort Madison. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

“I’m delighted with the turnout. I think we’ve had more than 150 people come through. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they didn’t think Fort Madison would ever do something like this,” Dalstra said.

“A lot of people have said they can’t wait for next year already.”

Vendors lined the street including Riverside Pride, Counseling Associates, and food and clothing vendors had lines some 10 deep. Zen Soul Society was also on hand and Scooter’s Coffee sent over about 20 cold drinks for event volunteers.

Teri Holterhaus, the sponsor of the Fort Madison High School Gay-Straight Alliance, said she was overwhelmed with the popularity.

“Isn’t this just awesome,” Holterhaus said. “The togetherness, the love, the support. It’s like a big hug that puts people back together.

“Now that we know what were looking at and the community has come out and said they are our allies, I think absolutely we could expand. I mean look at the camaraderie,” Holterhaus said.

“Everyone is having such a great time. There’s not one bit of discord, nothing about hatred, just love and hugs.”

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