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Midwesterners celebrated Pride Month amid heightened anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, new laws

Revelers at the 2023 Des Moines Pride Parade, which featured floats from dozens of area businesses.
Madeleine C King
/
IPR
Revelers at the 2023 Des Moines Pride Parade in Iowa, which featured floats from dozens of area businesses.

Legislatures in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, passed new laws decried by LGBTQ+ communities and their allies. Still, the month of June brought exuberant Pride celebrations around the region.

In the first half of 2023, statehouses across the Midwest were once again battlegrounds over legislation directly affecting LGBTQ+ communities.

Nebraska passed a law banning transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming healthcare. So did Iowa and Missouri. After failing to pass in 2022, a ban on transgender students participating in school sports made it to the Missouri governor’s desk in 2023.

The Kansas governor vetoed two measures aimed at transgender people: One would have put in place a definition for biological sex. The other would have penalized doctors who perform gender reassignment surgery on minors.

On July 1, a new Kansas law defining an individual’s gender based on their biological sex assigned at birth goes into effect.

And yet, Pride Month events and celebrations seemed as popular and enthusiastic as ever.

Pride Month 2023

Molly Monk joins the a crowd gathered for the Iowa City Pride Festival on June 17, 2023.
Em Domingues
/
Courtesy
Molly Monk joins the a crowd gathered for the Iowa City Pride Festival on June 17, 2023.
Supporters watch the Des Moines Pride Parade pass by on June 11, 2023.
Madeleine C King
/
IPR
Neighbors watch the Des Moines Pride Parade pass by on June 11, 2023.
Nikki Love prepares to go on stage at the Des Moines Arts Festival's drag show on June 25, 2023.
Madeleine C King
/
IPR
Nikki Love prepares to go on stage at the Des Moines Arts Festival's drag show June 25, 2023.
 A child walks with in the Kansas City Pride Community Alliance’s KC Pride parade on June 11, 2023 with a sign that reads, "No Pride for some of us without liberation for all of us."
Savannah Hawley-Bates
/
KCUR 89.3
A child walks with in the Kansas City Pride Community Alliance’s KC Pride parade on June 10, 2023 with a sign that reads, "No Pride for some of us without liberation for all of us."

 A troupe of dancers in yellow, orange and red in the Kansas City Pride Community Alliance’s KC Pride parade, which stretched from Westport to Frank A. Theis Park on June 11, 2023.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
/
KCUR 89.3
A troupe of dancers in yellow, orange and red in the Kansas City Pride Community Alliance’s KC Pride parade, which stretched from Westport to Frank A. Theis Park on June 13, 2023.
 A man walks with a child on his shoulders. They both wave pride flags.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
/
KCUR 89.3
Multiple generations walked in the Kansas City Pride Community Alliance’s KC Pride parade.
Adrienne Small, 26, of St. Ann, belts out a scream as 2023 Queen of Pride Analyse Thropic takes the stage on Saturday, June 24, 2023, during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Adrienne Small, 26, of St. Ann, belts out a scream as 2023 Queen of Pride Analyse Thropic takes the stage on Saturday, June 24, 2023, during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Ariana Gibson, right, and her son Kai, 3, play in the puddles caused by water streaming from a fire truck on Saturday, June 24, 2023 at St. Louis Pride Fest in downtown St. Louis. “I’m bisexual and I have been around LGBT-everything my entire life,” Gibson said. “It’s a fun place to be.”
Tristen Rouse
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Ariana Gibson, right, and her son Kai, 3, play in the puddles caused by water streaming from a fire truck on Saturday, June 24, 2023 at St. Louis Pride Fest in downtown St. Louis. “I’m bisexual and I have been around LGBT-everything my entire life,” Gibson said. “It’s a fun place to be.”
 Dr. Courtney East, director of the Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) program and assistant professor at Doane University, stands with student Chelsea Koehn in the program's booth at Star City Pride in Lincoln, Nebraska. Humidity, heat and possible storms didn't stop attendees, including a dozen or so Doane students, faculty and alumni, from attending the first day of the city's Pride festivities on Friday, June 9. The MAC program is housed at the university's Lincoln campus.
Liz McCue
/
Courtesy
Professor Courtney East and student Chelsea Koehn of Doane University at Star City Pride in Lincoln. Humidity, heat and possible storms didn't stop attendees from attending the first day of the city's Pride festivities on Friday, June 9.

Sapahn, an ethical luxury leather handbags and accessories company in Lincoln, shows its pride.
Lauryn Higgins
/
Special to the Midwest Newsroom
Sapahn, an ethical luxury leather handbags and accessories company in Lincoln, shows its pride.
“We wanted to bring human rights to the fashion industry by taking something that is often made in an unbeautiful way and making it beautiful,” said Brooke Mullen. Mullen is the owner of Sapahn, an ethical luxury leather handbags and accessories company in Lincoln.
Lauryn Higgins
/
Special to the Midwest Newsroom
“We wanted to bring human rights to the fashion industry by taking something that is often made in an unbeautiful way and making it beautiful,” said Brooke Mullen. Mullen is the owner of Sapahn, an ethical luxury leather handbags and accessories company in Lincoln.
Sophia Lewis, 13, of Maryland Heights, helps hoist a giant rainbow flag down Market Street on Sunday, June 25, 2023, St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Sophia Lewis, 13, of Maryland Heights, helps hoist a giant rainbow flag down Market Street on Sunday, June 25, 2023, St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.

Holly Edgell is the managing editor of the Midwest Newsroom, a public radio collaboration among NPR member stations in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. Based in St. Louis, she has more than 25 years experience as a journalist and journalism education. You can contact Holly at hollyedgell@kcur.org.