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Ryan Roemerman, 24, is not only helping rack up victories for LGBT students, he's proving to be a serious figure of interest for at least one 2008 Democratic presidential campaign. His gig: He's the cofounder and director of the Iowa Pride Network, an umbrella group of high school and college gay-straight alliances in the state.
What are some of the network's biggest successes to date? Our school climate survey, which we released at the end of 2005, found that 83% of the state's LGBT students said they had been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation. The survey really provided the impetus and the background for the [School Anti-Bullying and Anti-Harassment Act], which was just passed this March. The law protects all students from bullying and harassment. We've tripled the number of gay-straight alliances in Iowa, and really increased the number of students who are aware of their rights and resources.
What is your favorite part of the job? I love watching students grow as leaders. I travel around the state and get to meet with student groups all over. I've also been meeting with other groups in the Midwest--I just went to Nebraska to help launch a Nebraska Pride Network.
How does Iowa hold on to its LGBT youths when it's not exactly an LGBT mecca? Iowa is small enough that you can have an impact and really see the fruits of your labor. Our goal is to make Iowa the best it can be, a welcoming place for LGBT people, [where] they can run for office and not have to face discrimination in the workplace or in housing. It's part of a long-term goal here, which is also to acknowledge the creative class and how important that is for our local economy.
Iowa is a bellwether state for Democratic presidential politics. Have any of the candidates reached out to you to help secure the LGBT youth vote? I recently had a meeting with the Obama LGBT outreach person here--I was invited to their headquarters and met a lot of the staff. I may be meeting with Obama in a few weeks. I haven't decided on a candidate yet, but, hopefully, I'll get to talk to all of them.