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Iowa's Novelist-Turned-Activist Is Pushing Her State Forward

CARA DEVLIN

If you are a reader of young adult fiction, you might recognize Calla Devlin Rongerude as the author of the award-winning Tell Me Something Real and Right Where You Left Me. Now, you can know here as one of The Advocate's Champions of Pride

“I write about themes of family and grief and how everyone is worthy of being loved,” the bisexual author says. “And I think LGBTQ readers are especially attuned to those themes.”

But few in the LGBTQ community realize that this 50-year-old mother has quietly played a significant role in pushing for our rights over the last two decades. Rongerude has been helping to craft compelling material for NCLR, Freedom to Marry, and Movement Advancement Project, in jobs she says “feel like a mission. I believe in the power of storytelling. It humanizes issues and evokes compassion and empathy and is perhaps the most effective tool we have to open hearts and minds. I feel very fortunate to be able to work on social justice issues at the Movement Advancement Project. It’s a dream job for me.” 

At MAP, she manages Open to All, a nation-wide public awareness campaign Rongerude describes as “centered around the principle of when a business opens its doors to the public it must serve everyone on the same terms. This cross-movement work is deeply important, and Open to All is a coalition of 200-pluscivil rights, racial justice, LGBT, disability, religious and allied organizations working together to oppose discrimination and helps people know where they will be welcome—something that is so important at a time when so many communities are struggling. It’s an inspiring and energizing effort that is advancing the conversation about discrimination.”

Iowa is once again dominating national news as we close in on the 2020 presidential elections, and Rongerude says it’s how residents approach the voting decision that makes her proud to represent the state as a 2019 Champion. “This is an amazing honor and I’m a little blow away. 

Iowa is such a wonderful and unique place. In part because of the Iowa caucuses, I’ve observed how thoughtful and diligent Iowans can be when it comes to politics, attending campaign events and reading about candidates and issues. Given it’s such an intense battleground state, it’s taught me a great deal about how to reach good people who are conflicted about issues of equality.”

In her own lifetime she’s witnessed the advancements the LGBTQ community has made since Stonewall and says, “The speed in which we’ve gained public support, is remarkable. However, this Administration is targeting many vulnerable communities and has been successful in rolling back hard-won protections and advancing devastatingly cruel policies. We have so much work to do.” 

Her message to the younger generation who may be feeling demoralized in the face of the current administration: “First and foremost: you matter. Please use your voice and share your story — if it’s safe enough to do so. Vote. Volunteer. Get involved. Look how young people are transforming issues ranging from LGBTQ equality to racial justice to gun safety to climate change. We live in a time when it’s easy to feel alone and hopeless, but I truly believe that things will get better if we work together.” 

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