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At Pride Fest in Des Moines, politics are in the spotlight

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LGBT individuals in Iowa celebrate progress as Democratic presidential candidates promise to protect their rights.
DES MOINES — As Iowa LGBT rights activists gathered in front of the state capitol on Saturday to celebrate how far they have come since their first Pride Fest 41 years ago, their featured speaker was Pete Buttigieg, the gay Democratic mayor of South Bend, Ind., who is running for president.
“It’s absolutely historic,” said John Schmacker, 76, a self-described “Pete disciple.” Schmacker, who is gay, recalled feeling “euphoric” the day the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in April 2009.
“To think that there would be a married, openly gay man among the leading contenders for president of the United States,” he said.
For LGBT individuals and their allies, this month is a chance to celebrate the strides they have made. Same-sex marriage is now legal nationwide. There is a much greater awareness of transgender issues. And pride festivals like this one attract large, enthusiastic crowds.
But many who gathered Saturday said there’s much more work to do. And they worried the progress they fought for is being undone by President Trump and his party.
Some of those at the People’s Plaza in Des Moines wore T-shirts dedicated to their chosen candidate — most often Buttigieg or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). But most said they’re still learning about the nearly two dozen Democratic candidates and have yet to pick a favorite. Their main focus, many said, was replacing Trump.
Although advocacy and politics have always been an undercurrent at Pride Fest in Des Moines, this year organizers dedicated an entire afternoon to it. They started with a ceremony to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Iowa allowing same-sex marriages. It opened with a history lesson, and featured a reflection from Buttigieg and vow renewals for more than a dozen couples, many of whom clutched small children or had tears running down their faces.
Later in the afternoon, a long line of Democratic presidential candidates delivered their stump speeches and vowed that, if elected, they would protect the rights of LGBT individuals.
“We’re a constituency that’s an important constituency to woo,” said Jean McClurken, a 39-year-old social worker who lives in West Des Moines and attended Pride Fest with her wife and their 15-month-old son, Olson.

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