August came to the upper Midwest in early June this year. It was already eighty degrees when I loaded into Cookie, my van, at six AM. She doesn’t have AC anymore. The vent fan’s effectiveness fluctuates with road speed and elevation. I was channeling a seventies road trip movie trope with my windows open, driving into the morning sun.
I got to Ottumwa around noon. It was over ninety. I emerged from my van, hot and stiff, into the reinvigorating Queerness of ABBA, animating the pre-Pride assembly in Central Park. Pride was in the town square, surrounded by the courthouse, city hall, public library, and a Catholic Church. A volunteer showed me where to set up, opposite the bandshell, under a tree. Someone had created and hung giant rainbow curtains around the stage.
I hadn’t really remembered to include Iowa as a red state until I forgot to request Friday night off from my bartending job and I needed to find a Pride close to home for Saturday. When I pulled up the ACLU’s anti-LGBTQ legislation map, there was Iowa, right next door, waving at me with almost thirty bills introduced in just their last session. That’s a little too close to home.
Iowa is Minnesota’s neighbor. I lived there as a child. I’ve never associated it with far-right activism. My uncritical, childhood perception of Iowa mostly consisted of good schools, civic participation, and warm, intelligent, practicality. As an adult, I’ve had a vague notion of Iowa as a purple state.
Apparently, that was the case until 2016. Iowa sided with Democrats in six of seven national elections between 1992 and 2012. It was the third state in the nation to codify same-sex marriage way back in 2009. Abortion rights were reaffirmed by the state supreme court as recently as 2019. Then Donald Trump won the state by over 9% in 2016, a 15-point swing over from Obama’s victory in 2012 by 6%.
Along with the consequential Trump effect, their governor, Kim Reynolds, has been a major influence on Iowa’s shift to the far-right. She started as the Clarke County treasurer, a county with less than 10,000 people. She is an…