The University of Iowa

UI Center for Human Rights is praised for ‘make it better’ efforts

April 17th, 2011

The following editorial appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Iowa has much to be proud of in terms of its history of civil rights for gays and lesbians.

» Not only because the Iowa Legislature and governor in 2007 added sexual orientation and gender identity of the list of protected categories in the state’s civil rights code.

» Not only because the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009 unanimously recognized that gay and lesbian Iowans have as much right to marry their partners as heterosexual Iowans do.

» But also because the thousands of gay and lesbian couples who have been married in our state in the past two years have helped to demonstrate how civil marriage is a civil right — not a mere privilege to be given or taken away by the whim of a majority.

Yet gay and lesbian Iowans also know that, no matter how proud they are and no matter how many laws are passed, they still face discrimination. And openly gay and lesbian high school students still have many stories to tell about physical and verbal intimidation — as well as about the failure of family and friends to support their decision to come out.

That’s why we’re glad to hear that Working Group Theatre, the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights and the Iowa Pride Network have been working together over the past two months on a new project, “Make it Better, Iowa,” intended to promote supporting LGBT youth in the state.

The culmination of the project is a free event at 4 p.m. today at hotelVetro, featuring speakers, performances and a Skyped-in visit by Dan Savage, author of “It Gets Better.”

“Though it’s wonderful to hear successful gay people talk about how it gets better, (a lot of students say), ‘But I have three years of high school left. It feels like an eternity,’” said Ryan Roemerman, executive director of Iowa Pride Network. “We wanted to take the next step on how to make it better now. We wanted to make sure students know they aren’t alone.”

Stemming from a response to the “It Gets Better” videos online, Working Group producing director Martin Andrews said the project is a way to show area youth that they don’t have to wait until adulthood to feel accepted for who they are.

“We wanted to do something that was about gay and lesbian youth in Iowa, and we wanted to change it up a little bit, to focus on things that are making it better right now,” he said. “It’s hard if the message is just, ‘Wait until you get older and it’ll get better.’ We wanted to focus on ways people are making it better now.”

We think today’s event will benefit anyone who is trying to help gay and lesbian teenagers learn to take pride in themselves. In addition to the theatrical performance, Eastern Iowa’s LGBT chorus, The Quire, also will perform. And several people will share their “Make it Better” stories before Savage is introduced via Skype.

We hope the overall message of the event comes out loudly and clearly: That despite the real risks gay and lesbian teenagers face, there also are real benefits to be had by coming out earlier rather than later.