Mike Goll and Dave Klennert live in Orange City, Iowa. The couple runs the local Pride festival and they are taking legal action against the city for discrimination. Photos: Evan Jenkins

What Pete Buttigieg Doesn’t Understand About LGBTQ Life in Iowa

Mayor Pete didn’t come to the state as a gay candidate. If he did, he would have discovered what the need for change really looks like.

Lyz Lenz
Published in
21 min readJan 30, 2020


TThe terror of a winter storm in Iowa is that everything looks the same. You can go from safe to unsafe, fast. Caught in the snow, the world seems to disappear; the sky and ground blur together in a swirling white that isn’t a white, but an absence of color. The weather term for this atmospheric disturbance is a snow squall, which occurs when a band of cold hits warm moist air. It’s the danger of the two extremes coming together.

This is what the horizon looked like through my windshield as I drove in late November from Cedar Rapids, in Eastern Iowa, where I live, to Sioux City on the far edge of Western Iowa to hear Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg speak at a middle school. Hands tight on the wheel, everything looked the same — white road and ditch and sky. Living in Iowa, I usually don’t have to travel very far to see presidential candidates; they usually come to see me. Cedar Rapids, where I live, is the second-largest city in Iowa, with a population of more than 130,000 people. To get to Sioux City, I head north on I–380 through Waterloo—pop. 68,000—then west on Highway 20 and nothing for four hours. It’s a beautiful and lonely road where you drive straight into land and sky, and Iowa feels like the gentle unfurling of an open hand.

Cedar Rapids — along with Iowa City and Dubuque — recently received a perfect ranking for LGBTQ inclusion by the Human Rights Campaign. (The criteria include “non-discrimination, the municipality as an employer, services and programs, law enforcement, and leadership.”) Of the nine Iowa cities ranked, Sioux City received the lowest score. Northwest Iowa, where Sioux City is located, is Steve King territory.

You know him, Steve King, the Republican congressman who has publicly made so many racist statements that the New York Times compiled a list that goes back to 2002 when King was a state senator and he sponsored a bill to make English the official language of Iowa. In 2005, King sued the Iowa Secretary of State for putting voter information in languages other than English on their…



Lyz Lenz
Writer for

Author of God Land. Columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The book Belabored is forthcoming from Bold Type Books in August of 2020.