Can The “River City” Accept Its First-Ever Pride Fest?

Guest post from Elle Smith

Will the Northern Iowa town of Mason City see its first ever Pride event? Teanna Corcoran and AJ Bradbury will test the boundaries of acceptance in this “River City.”

What distinguishes a small town from the fantasies that you and I have invented for them in our coastal cities? Born and raised in Mason City, playwright Meredith Wilson dubbed it “River City” in his 1957 stage musical The Music Man. It’s a barely fictionalized portrait of Wilson’s childhood home depicting “Iowa-stubborn” citizens. In The Music Man, prejudice, small-mindedness, and gossip litter the community. The mayor’s wife complains of a book lent to her daughter as smut. It is The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: “People lying out in the woods, eating sandwiches, and drinking out of jugs.” (This is her interpretation of the famous line “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.”)

As we imagine, Northern Iowa struggles with the acceptance of ideas from the outside. Iowans are mostly a “live and let live” bunch and one sees few outright displays of prejudice and bigotry, but even with the internet, the access to outside philosophies is limited. 

Somewhat isolated, Mason City is as close to the top of Iowa as you can get in these northern plains. About two hours from both Minneapolis and Des Moines, Mason City is defined by Wikipedia as “micropolitan.” The population of 27,000 is down from it’s peak in the 1960’s of 30,000 residents. If you come here you will see what has played out economically in the great heart of America over the decades. This is a mostly a minimum wage landscape now, of chain restaurants and sports bars that routinely show nothing but FOX News and sports. There are diverse people, but you may not immediately see it on the surface. I wondered what sort of bravery it took to be gay or transgender and out in the middle of this country.

AJ, 22, is looking for work, understands that his transgender status is a hurdle. Though protected by anti-discrimination laws in theory, his phone isn’t ringing off the hook with job offers in this Northern Iowa town. Perceived as a girl with a “skaterboy” look, AJ has understood who he is from a very young age. His partner, Teanna, 19, came out in her junior year of high school as a lesbian. She was promptly grounded by her dad but for “not too long, maybe a few days”; her mother was “very accepting, then asked what it was like.”

“I think they were caught off guard and were mad I lied to them about my girlfriend,” she says.

There are some parallels to draw here with Meredith Wilson’s semi-fictional River City. Teanna hears each day the comments of people who stop by her cash register at a truckstop market and gas station that sits placidly beside Interstate 35 on the border of neighboring Clear Lake. Her boss will comment upon her sexual orientation to her co-workers. As being a lesbian doesn’t immediately visually mark her as gay, the occasional comment is not directed at her. Tianna tells me in a random conversation one has at a cash register, that a stranger told her that there was no such thing as lesbianism and that the woman had obviously had not found a good enough man yet. Tianna told him she was gay. “Oh, yeah?” the guy smirked, and walked out.

For AJ, each day brings numerous awkward conversations as Iowa is a polite place and one is routinely addressed as “sir” or “ma’am.”  “It hurts.” AJ tells me. “Most people are either opposed to gender expression completely or try to be accepting in an environment that’s somewhat trans-phobic.”

He is passionate about LGBTQ culture and history. The purpose of MC Pride is to inform: As AJ runs a gauntlet of daily misunderstanding, his goal is to foster and help people accept the gender fluid individual.

“Yes, I am trans* male that is in the process of transitioning,” AJ says. “I use the pronouns he/him/his. I would be considered “F-T-M,” standing for female to male. Trans* male is my gender expression and my sexual orientation is queer.”

All this brings up the question, how does Tianna identify now as her partner is transitioning to male?  AJ and Tianna identify as queer. Can our River City accept this?

As of this writing, I am happy to report that AJ is employed in a warehouse building and packing pallets preparing them for the loaders to put into trucks. His new employer changed all the bathroom signs to gender nuetral recently.

I walked away from the conversation thinking about how we struggle with identity. There is some basic need within us to identify and label those we meet. Iowa went to Trump and the divide within this country and between each of us has never been greater. It takes courage to do what Teanna and AJ will do the weekend of June 2nd and 3rd. Help my friends raise awareness by giving to the GoFundMe linked here:


by Elle Smith
Posted 3/20/17

5 Comments on "Can The “River City” Accept Its First-Ever Pride Fest?"

  • What are small-minded description of Mason City. That’s not at all what it’s like Ike here. “limited access to outside philosophy” What? Minimum wage community? Are you kidding? My husband and I brought our family back to Iowa after living in Seattle 20+ years ago, knowing how great Iowa really is. My husband hails from Mason City and we live here. Both of us are college educated professionals and I’m a business owner. I’m thrilled about the pride event, but astounded that this article was written to pose as support. It’s a very offensive description of this town and area, which is much more diverse than you seem to think.

    • Thank you, Camille. You said it well. The gay lobby is powerful, and it’s clear that it takes a lot more courage to voice an objection to this whole bogus “trans” scene. Most people have a sense that while a very few individuals might have trouble sorting out their hormones, it is not nearly as prevalent as the elitists have claimed.
      When people are threatened with a loss of their business because they find gay marriage morally repugnant and refuse to bake them a wedding cake, the lobby has gone far over the top. Gay “rights” in my opinion, do not trump the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment.
      The focus on “Pride” parades does little to “educate” anyone because there’s an apriori assumption that “straight” people are ignorant and incapable of understanding the depths and nuances of gender identities. When only one side is given a a voice, and those who are participating in the pride parade threaten any kind of resistance or objections with a team of lawyers, there is not going to be much of a debate, but there’ll be threats of legal intimidation.

  • Yes you are collage educated, and a business owner. And how many are in Mason City? The election results show the level of education. Don’t get me wrong, I visit Mason City and do business and stop to eat there. But it is a now state controlled minimum wage place for the most part. You can see it when you drive around town. Now a turn around town is Des Moines. Young people moving in, lots of collage educated people. The state has now passed a law to control wages on a state level. So people must take any job at any wage just to get by across the state. So places like Mason City will not have much of a middle class as long as this is going on.

    • Question: what criteria or data is used by politicians to determine what is a fair and equitable “fair wage”? If you believe that a middle class is created by raising wages above what a fair market price for labor, you are mistaken. We do know (or SHOULD KNOW) that the Founders prescribed very few and limited powers to government, and wage control for workers in the private sector is not one of those powers. The wage scale for public employees, job for job, is much higher than would be paid in the private sector, and also much higher than the free market price for labor; So who pays the higher price for public laborers? The taxpayer, who has no voice at the labor negotiation table. The person who is representing “management” in that negotiation is an unknown, faceless figure who has nothing at stake, and will likely dissolve in the midst of public employees and never have to face the consequences of any mistakes that were made on the part of “management”. It is generally assumed that government jobs are lucrative, and is practically impossible to be fired for lack of productivity, especially when “tenure” is involved. So government jobs offer both higher pay and job security. So why doesn’t everyone go to work for the government? BECAUSE the WAGES of government workers are drawn from the taxes of those in the private sector. Why is that so hard to understand? Rising taxes will inevitably cripple the worker in the private sector.
      So when a liberal asks the inevitable question about “the rich” … not paying… “their fair share”, you can be sure they are referring to “the rich” in the PRIVATE SECTOR, and NOT the public sector.
      For some reason it’s always the corporation executives who are accused of greed and devious practices—never the greed of politicians and bureaucrats feeding at the public trough. There will likely never be a meeting of the minds regarding minimum wage. The only true minimum wage is zero–when a businessman can’t afford to pay the prescribed wage mandated by government. What is forgotten is the lack of concern for the minimum wage of the business owner and the return he must have for the risk he/she takes on a daily basis..

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