Orange City finds its way into national news more often than the average small town in Iowa. Sometimes, Orange City is in the national spotlight as a shining example of people living in community with one another. Reporters have commented in the past on the town’s close-knit Dutch community and juxtaposed it with city life.
In 2017, The New Yorker ran a piece titled “Where the Small Town American Dream Lives On.” The piece highlights Orange City as a beacon of hope for small town life as similar rural communities stagnate.
The town also finds itself in the national spotlight for entirely different reasons. In 2015, The New York Times ran a piece titled “How a Quiet Corner of Iowa Packs Such a Fierce Conservative Punch.” The article dives into the conservative political makeup of Orange City and the surrounding county.
Recently, Orange City found itself in the national spotlight again as a piece was published highlighting the burning of Orange City library books in the wake of OC Pride weekend.
The events of the weekend were held Oct. 19-21 at Town Square Coffeehouse. Friday began with an “evening of pride” celebration that included a performance from the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus and a drag queen event.
On Saturday, there was an informational fair during the day with a “buried seeds” event which invited LGBTQ+ people to share their stories at an open mic. The festivities concluded with a brunch and worship service Sunday at Town Square.
SUPPORT FOR OC PRIDE
The events of OC Pride brought a wide range of reactions from the people of Orange City. Steve Mahr, owner of Town Square, helped organize the event. He explained the great lengths he and the rest of the organizers went through to ensure that the event would go smoothly. The organizational team is made up of six individuals: three are from the LGBTQ+ community and three are allies of the LGBTQ+ community.
“We know it’s a conservative area, so there are a lot of conversations we need to have to peacefully put on the event,” Mahr said about the logistics of planning Pride weekend.
Given the political climate of northwest Iowa, Mahr and the rest of the organizers knew that the event would likely be controversial.
“This community does not have a lot of spaces where LGBT people can feel love and acceptance” Mahr said.
Mahr understood that there would likely be pushback against the event from the community and explained his motivations for helping to put on the event.
“We are trying to create. We are not trying to destroy. Our convictions aren’t going to be swayed. We do [OC Pride] to make people feel loved and accepted.”
ANOTHER CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Mahr, and many others like him, see OC Pride as an opportunity to extend love to people typically marginalized in the Orange City community. However, there are members of the community that do not view the event as positively. John Swart, a member at New Hope church, articulated his views on Pride weekend. Swart teaches a college Sunday school class at New Hope Evangelical where his group studies one book of the Bible over the course of a school year. This year, the group is studying 1 Corinthians, which is where Swart gets the basis for his stance on Pride.
“The church has a responsibility to be concerned about behavior of a congregation,” Swart said.
He argues that homosexuality is a sin and professing Christians should not participate in that type of lifestyle. He clarified that the church should be open to allowing people who feel same-sex attraction to attend the church, but his stance is that they cannot be members if they live in this lifestyle.
These convictions cause Swart to question Christian support for an event like Pride. His chief concern with Pride is when people say that it is something consistent with God’s word, which he believes is not the case.
FORMER STUDENT’S PERSPECTIVE
Orange City is a small town filled with people that attend church regularly. There is a pervading sense in the broader culture that all Christians agree on most things, but many Christians know that this is not true. There are Christians like Mahr and former NW student Garrett Beeck that aresupportive of an event like OC Pride.
“Many LGBTQ+ students [at NW] have felt left out of this community. Several of the people who founded OC Pride are NW graduates and have taken that understanding of community, acceptance and love and opened it to everyone, without restriction. Of the many things that NW taught me over the years, the most important is that the love of God is a truly amazing gift that makes us whole despite our faults, and that this love is available to everyone in all circumstances.”
Christians like Mahr and Beeck look through the lens of God’s love for all and view OC Pride positively. There are also Christians with faith-based convictions that have trouble supporting an event like Pride. Along with teaching Sunday school, Swart has been an elder at New Hope. His beliefs cause him to have concerns about supporting an event like OC Pride.
LIBRARY BOOKS BURNED
Not all have reacted to OC Pride the same way. Paul Dorr, a local religious political activist, checked out books from the Orange City Library and burned them during a Facebook livestream. During the steam, Dorr read a post from his blog that articulated his views about OC Pride. The burning of library books is destruction of public property, and Dorr stated that he would not pay to replace the destroyed books.
A GoFundMe was started to replace the books and received over $2,300, which would more than cover the $50 cost to replace the books. The Orange City Library declined to comment on this. This story was picked up by the Des Moines Register and even USA Today. This type of backlash against LGBTQ+ material is unique to conservative pockets in the United States like Orange City, and national news outlets continue to report on it whenever it breaks out.
OC Pride drew mixed reactions and actions from the people of Orange city. The OC Pride planning committee plans to hold another Pride festival around the same time next year.