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Ottumwa Pride leaders say they won't be deterred by anti-LGBTQ comments from city council candidates

FILE - In this April 19, 2019, file photo, a gay pride rainbow flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., United Methodist Church leaders are proposing creation of a separate division that would let more traditional denominations break away because of the disagreement with churches over the UMC’s official stance on gay marriage. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Charlie Riedel/AP
In this April 19, 2019, file photo, an LGBTQ pride flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan.

Organizers with Ottumwa Pride say anti-LGBTQ comments made by candidates running for the city council won’t deter their work. The group’s leaders say they remain committed to making the community a more welcoming and inclusive place.

This past August, Ottumwa Pride put on their first Pride Block Party, where revelers were permitted to gather at Canteen Alley in downtown Ottumwa to celebrate the LGBTQ community with art projects and community outreach, plus a silent disco, local bands and drag performances.

Ottumwa Pride president Troy Fadiga said the event was “an absolute success”.

“There was just a lot of collective joy in that area,” Fadiga said. “It really touched the heart.”

Ottumwa Pride board member Kristen Payne, who also serves as a sponsor of the Evans Middle School Gay Straight Alliance, said she’s seen her students grow through participating in events like the block party and other LGBTQ community outreach.

“The openness and the support and the growth I’ve seen in just the confidence in those kids,” Payne said. “They might come in and be completely lost and then they find out they’re not alone. And just the sense of security they can get by seeing us stand up in the community.”

But in the eyes of some candidates vying for public office in Ottumwa, the city’s approval of a permit for the block party and a proclamation issued in June recognizing Pride Month were controversial.

During a candidate forum last week hosted by the League of Women Voters of Ottumwa, Payne submitted a question: would the candidates support similar permits and proclamations in the future?

Mayoral candidate Rick Bick voiced opposition for city support of Pride activities, asking if ‘pedophiles’ also deserved ‘special treatment’.

“I’m going to disagree here a little bit,” Bick said. “If you pick this sexual preference group, what about the pedophile group? Are you going to give them special preference? Or … well I won’t go any farther. But … because I could say other things that I’ve dealt with as a minister with that.”

Responding to the same question, city council candidate Matt Pringle said he would vote against providing city permits for Pride events.

“No, not at all,” Pringle responded to the question. “When celebrating a minority group, we must maintain absolute, scientific, biological genetics and not a behavioral choices. Many Ottumwa citizens were disappointed in the city council’s decision this past June.”

Fadiga said the comments were “shocking but not surprising”. But he says the statements won’t deter the group’s work to host public events and support LGBTQ individuals in the community.

“However the city council is constituted, going forward, Ottumwa Pride is going to be doing more for more people,” Fadiga said. “And there’s just nothing that’s going to stop that.”

Payne says the comments underscore how important the organization’s work is, particularly for young people in the community.

“As the adults in the community that are members and allies to the LGBTQ community, we model for them that this is a community that is ok for you and it is safe for you. And it is important that we keep going and not go anywhere,” Payne said.

The Ottumwa Pride leaders say they’re not slowing down: they have a meeting scheduled for the day after the election to start planning next year’s agenda and events.

“We’ve had so much outreach of people just coming up and saying, ‘we want to be part of this. We want to support you. How can we help?’” Payne said. “We’re growing. And it’s a beautiful thing.”

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter