The University of Iowa

UI Center for Human Rights combats LGBT discrimination with ‘Make it Better, Iowa’

March 24th, 2011

From University News Services

The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR) is partnering with Iowa City’s Working Group Theatre and other local organizations to end gender identity-related discrimination, oppression and bullying through two upcoming events inspired by the “It Gets Better Project,” a worldwide movement to support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) youth. Both of these events are free and open to the public.

The local project, “Make it Better, Iowa,” will include an interactive theatre workshop from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 2, in the South Room of the Iowa Memorial Union. Karen Mitchell, a professor of communication studies at the University of Northern Iowa, will lead the workshop. LGBT students, advisors, advocates and all other students and community members are invited to attend. To register, email

The workshop will introduce concepts of forum theatre, or theatre of the oppressed, as Working Group Theatre members present scenarios designed to stimulate audience participation through discussion, interactive role-playing and shared experiences.

“Tolerance of diversity is not enough to create a truly welcoming community,” Mitchell said. “This workshop aims to move the valuation of diversity beyond passive acceptance toward active defense and celebration of diversity.”

Workshop participants will create a theatrical piece and have the option to perform with Working Group Theatre at the “Make it Better, Iowa” celebration at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 17, in the Hotel Vetro, Iowa City. This event will honor those who are making it better for LGBT youth in Iowa and encourage others to do the same. The Quire, Eastern Iowa’s LGBT chorus, will perform as well. No registration is required to attend.

Dan Savage, a columnist and author who first inspired the “It Gets Better Project,” will appear via Skype for an interview during the April 17 event. In response to a number of students taking their own lives after being bullied in school, Savage created a YouTube video with his partner to inspire hope for young people facing harassment.

“Iowa is in a state of transformation – the most important issues of our country are front and center in our state: immigration, environmental protection, acceptance and celebration of diversity,” said Martin Andrews, co-organizer of the event and producing director of Working Group Theatre. “Working Group wants to use theater to help shape that transformation into a form that supports equality and human rights. That’s why we’ve teamed up with UICHR to develop this project.”

The UICHR received a Catalyst Award Seed Grant from the UI Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity to fund the April 2 workshop. The grant supports start-up projects and programs with immediate impact for enhancing the diversity goals of the UI.

“The UICHR is excited to partner with Working Group Theatre to engage the arts as a means of human rights education and promotion, “said Amy Weismann, UICHR deputy director. “This project may lead to ongoing engagement with communities across Iowa as well as lead to UI students, faculty and staff seeking tools for combatting discrimination and facilitating creative responses to conflict. It is also an opportunity for the UICHR to enhance the problem-solving skills of student leaders on this campus, who in turn are the catalysts creating a welcoming and supportive environment for all fellow students.”

Working Group Theatre, UICHR, Iowa Pride Network, Prairie Lights Books, Hotel Vetro and UI International Programs are sponsoring these events.

For more information or special accommodations to attend, call Andrews at 515-545-6195.

To learn more about the “It Gets Better Project,” visit

For more information on these events, visit or