One gay family’s Iowa adventure
This coming Monday, January 19, Iowa holds the first Democratic presidential caucuses in our country. The results of these caucuses will have a major impact on who becomes the Democratic Party’s candidate to take on George W. Bush in November. The following is a log of a three-day trip to Iowa one gay family—Marty Rouse, Scott Sherman, and their son, Sasha—took in December at the invitation of the Howard Dean campaign to reach out to Iowa’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered voters.Donna Red Wing, Dean for America's GLBT outreach staff, and the Sherman-Rouse family are ready to take on Iowa for Dean!Tuesday: Des MoinesMy partner, Scott, our 3 year-old son, Sasha, and I landed in Des Moines on Tuesday, December 9. At the airport we were met by Donna Red Wing, a longtime GLBT activist who is now a GLBT organizer for the Dean campaign. She’s dedicated, smart, funny, and has a big heart.At the Dean campaign office in town, Donna and I participated in a national conference call to GLBT media. The questions ran the gamut from medical marijuana to gay marriage.From there, with a mini-blizzard just starting, we were on our way to the Des Moines GLBT Center. Driving way below the speed limit for safety (and passing lots of neon signs, some 50 feet high, for food chains and the like), we arrived at the center, situated in an office building across from a strip mall.A dozen GLBT activists of all political persuasions were there, asking lots of questions: on fiscal policy, health care costs, health insurance access, the economy, and more. They were intrigued to hear about the real-world life of civil unions; I showed them our civil union certificate. They touched it as if it were the Holy Grail. That’s when I realized that they understood the power of what was accomplished in Vermont. We are living the lives that most GLBT Americans can only dream about.Wednesday: BurlingtonThe next morning, in near white-out conditions, Scott, Sasha, and I drove two hours to Burlington, a union town in southeastern Iowa. The largest gay group in town is a chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The three people who braved the blizzard to meet us at a local restaurant for lunch told us of their closeted lives. They spoke in hushed, monotone voices and got excited only when they told us that the potato chips that came with our lunch were locally made. I considered it a victory when one of the men told me he was previously a Gephardt supporter (if he was voting at all) but was now going to be voting for Dean.With Scott cursing the weather (I can’t believe that “our” Burlington, near the Canadian border, is warmer than this one), we headed to the Iowa City Dean Headquarters.Iowa CityThe Dean headquarters in this college town was on the second level of a large shopping mall. The Edwards and Kerry campaigns also had offices there. All but one of the second-level storefronts of the mall were vacant (thanks to a bigger mall had recently opened in the suburbs). Donna and I made some phone calls to GLBT-supportive voters. We mainly got answering machines. Scott and Sasha had more success: They went shopping.Cedar RapidsTime to drive 30 miles to Cedar Rapids. The Legion Arts Building, built in 1891, was originally a Czech social hall. Refurbished with private money, the building is now a visual arts gallery and performance space. It’s a jewel of a building, and the exhibits in the gallery rival those in any city.Twenty or so folks braved the icy conditions to meet with us. We were introduced by a woman who considered herself apolitical until recently. Shortly after her daughter came out as a lesbian, she and her husband joined PFLAG, understanding the connection between their daughter’s struggles and the policies of our government. The questions focused mainly on the economy, health care, and Howard Dean’s background. There was a yearning to learn about life in Vermont and about Howard Dean. A woman came up as we were leaving and told me, “I was leaning toward Gephardt, but now I’m voting for Dean.”After a slippery drive to a fast food restaurant for dinner in the car, we arrived safely in Davenport for the night.Thursday: DavenportOff to the Davenport Unitarian church for our final official visit. The 20 attendees discussed jobs, health care, Native American issues, and civil unions. A local network television affiliate was eager to show Quad-Cities viewers what a civil union certificate looks like. We left the church after we broke (real) bread with our hosts (and had some cheddar soup), and we headed back to the campaign office.The local Dean campaign staffers were thrilled to have us there. They told us of the energy in Iowa for Howard Dean. Many Dean campaign staff members in Iowa are gay or lesbian.On the way to the airport, we made two unofficial stops. One was the Quad-Cities GLBT community center. It hosts the largest safe space for GLBT youth in the Midwest outside of Chicago. It has a growing program for seniors. The staff lamented the lack of support for the center’s programs from the state of Iowa.Our final stop was a visit to a local gay-straight alliance in a high school. The group was actually named SOUP, for Students Organized to Unite People—no gay in the title. The founder told us of the homophobia he faced in school, mainly from the school’s administration, he said. One student told us of his constant harassment from fellow students. He said, “I get by all right. I have it OK, I guess.” Clearly these young people were dealing with issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation. It was almost a dreamlike show-and-tell as I passed around the civil union certificate.The energetic Davenport, IA Dean Staff. Only six weeks 'til the caucus!DepartureI left Iowa realizing that GLBT Iowans—and perhaps all of us—are more like mainstream Americans than we generally think. Gay marriage, medical marijuana, gays in the military—these are not burning issues here.I also realized how important it was for Vermonters to share our stories with the rest of the country. Vermont is a special place. Whether it’s the freedom to be who we are, the security of our unions, or the billboard- and neon-free interstate, the state’s environment allows us to truly live an American dream.In a few short weeks, we realized as we left, Iowans will play a key role in determining whether that Vermont dream can become a reality for more of America.To learn more about the Dean campaign, visit http://www.DeanForAmerica.com.