A "Stark" revelation at the PRIDE festival


The first-pride festival was held in Fort Madison on Thursday night.

For the past few years a small group of passionate people has organized a parade and park rally to create, and celebrate, awareness of openly gay and transgender individuals in our society.

I spoke with an individual at the festival named Rory Stark. And in the middle of what was clearly an updated and enhanced festival showcasing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community - an event that I'm 99% sure our youngest daughter Kelsey would have been part of... I ironically and innocently committed the one error that is part of this community's message.


In the article we published on the festival, I attributed Stark's gender as female - "she said".

Never once giving it a thought at the time, I'm now spending many hours thinking about it.

Someone brought the clarification to my attention on Friday saying that Rory goes by "they/them" and not "she". Of course they do. I had to let that sink in.

I thought about our Kelsey and some of her friends, many of whom were at the event Thursday and graciously stopped and said Hello.

She wouldn't have been upset, but probably would have been the first to ring my bell about it. "Dad...you have so much to learn" with her smiling, beautiful eyes. She attended similar festivals in Iowa City with friends and advocated out loud that the right to identify as you wish is just as unalienable as any other right, not just represented, but protected in what throughout time has been the global symbolism of a free people.

And on Father's Day that imagery weighs proudly on me.

But it also weighs heavily on me because clearly I didn't see it as fully as she would have wanted me to. She would never have scolded me for it - I'm sure she knew that I was learning it at a slower pace because not only am I old school, but old!

It will take me a hot minute to get behind someone identifying as a cat or a dog. That's not meant to be facetious, it's not. And that identification exists. I'm just not there yet.

Our oldest daughter Taylor regularly attends the New York City Pride March and spends the day there in support of that massive community in one of the world's biggest cities. She, too, has extrapolated a sense of fair play and human kindness from her parents.

It's flattering really.

But walking into that festival was something unexpected. I have a sense of shyness about me. I would never have been the show choir kid. But then again, I cannot sing, nor do I try - out of that same sense of human kindness.

Here were these people of all ages and all genders dancing, singing, talking, and taking up an entire street block. Dressed in colors of the rainbow and genuinely happy and proud to be there. The organizers were over the moon with excitement and already working on plans for next year.

They should be. It really was something to be proud of. No quizzical looks, or sneering. No arguing, no opposing view points. Just people getting together and celebrating - not a date, or hero, or work, or service...just life and being able to live it with the only constraints of being human.

Everything else is on the table. It really was something.

Rory, you are an eloquent speaker. You are proud and confident and you were a joy to spend just a few minutes getting to know. Keep speaking. Keep going. I know Danielle Neaves, Dan Dalstra, and Teri Holterhaus have no plans for a one-and-done. I'm intrigued to see where this thing goes.

And if you didn't go out of some sense that it's not you...it wasn't me, but maybe it is just a bit more.

So you folks keep planning and growing...and I'll try to get a handle on that cat thing, but that's Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at charles.v@pencitycurrent.com.

beside the point, celebration, Chuck Vandenberg, festival, fort madison, Kelsey Ray, LGBTQ+, PRIDE, transgender


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