Decorah Pride festival returns despite rain and graffiti


This past weekend, the Decorah Pride festival returned for a fifth year, celebrating LGBTQIA+ pride in Northeast Iowa. Festivities occurred from Thursday, September 14 to Saturday, September 16 despite rain and homophobic vandalism.

The festival kicked off Thursday with a Pride Trivia Night at Impact Coffee. On Friday night, Drag performers performed a drag show in the upper level of T-Bock’s Sports Bar and Grill. The weekend’s events concluded on Saturday morning with Pride Yoga and a Rainbow Run, as well as a rain-delayed Pride Parade in the afternoon. The parade featured groups and organizations from Decorah, including Luther’s PRIDE club. 

President of Luther PRIDE Cassandra Norton (‘24) felt that the Pride Festival validated the presence of queer identity in Decorah. Norton highlighted the impact that events like the festival have on allowing LGBTQIA+ individuals to be themselves.

“Being queer is part of our identity, and we’re here to be ourselves,” Cassandra Norton (‘24), president of Luther PRIDE said. “I think Pride is very important because there’s such a mixed culture in Decorah. It helps people feel like they have support in a place where it sometimes doesn’t always feel like you’re supported.”

Immediately following the parade was Party in the Park. Community partners and sponsors had booths set up in the green space next to the baseball diamond on Heivly Street. One of the featured speakers at the event, Alexandra St. James Gray (‘95),  was one of the original members of Luther’s PRIDE club.  Gray noted the importance of remembering the roots of pride and extending inclusivity, specifically the Stonewall protest and riots of 1969. 

“Pride was a riot,” Gray said, to the party-goers. “The first person to throw a brick was a black trans woman.”

The day after the parade, however, three Decorah buildings were found vandalized with homophobic graffiti. Decorah Lutheran Church, Decorah United Church of Christ and the Winneshiek County Courthouse, respectively, were each vandalized with spray paint. Notably, a rainbow door display between the two churches proclaiming that “God’s Doors are Open to All” was defaced with homophobic slurs.  Decorah Lutheran Church condemned the act in a Facebook post on September 17, saying that “fear and hate is not what God is about.”

“We worship the God of love and peace,” the post said. “We aren’t here to judge others. We are here to love God and love our neighbors.”

A group of around 30 people gathered at Decorah United Church of Christ the morning after the vandalism was discovered to remove the graffiti. According to KWWL, professional companies will have to be contacted to fully restore the vandalized buildings. 

Kjerstin Halverson (‘24) was part of the group involved in removing the graffiti on Sunday. Halverson is the representative in Luther’s Student Senate for the Council for Faith and Life, and also works at Decorah United Church of Christ as a Children’s Ministry Coordinator. She appreciated how efficiently and charitably the Decorah community came together for the cleanup.

“Everything that happened, it broke my heart and made me feel defeated,” Halverson said. “It was really great to see how quickly people showed up and how many people were there. That part of it was really great – so many people really cared. Even people who couldn’t clean up. People came to just pray and hang out, and give their support in other ways.”

The Decorah Police Department and the Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Office are requesting that anyone with information or video footage of the vandalism contact their respective offices.

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