• Holly Harris

LGBTQI+ Policies and Civil Society in the United States: A Project for Vietnam


Being greeted at the airport by volunteers Ken and Gayle Royar.

On Thursday, November 3rd, we welcomed a delegation of 8 LGBTQ activists from Vietnam for a program called “LGBTQI+ Policies and Civil Society in the United States.” Volunteers Ken and Gayle Royar greeted them at the Cedar Rapids Eastern Iowa airport and snapped a photo with Herky the Hawk. They boarded a bus to Iowa City and settled into their hotel rooms for the rest of the evening.

Meeting with the Iowa City Mayor, Iowa City Human Rights Commission, and the Iowa City Police Department.

The next day, Steve Merkel-Hess, lifetime member of Global Ties Iowa, greeted them in their hotel lobby. Steve escorted the delegation to their first meeting in Iowa with the Iowa City Mayor, Iowa City Human Rights Commission, and the Iowa City Police Department. They discussed the city’s efforts to promote LGBTQI+ inclusion in Iowa City.


After their meeting, Steve escorted the delegation to Bread Garden Market for lunch before meeting with Joe Reilly and Lisa Skriver of Iowa City Pride. The visitors enjoyed a lively discussion about Iowa City Pride’s commitment to providing a variety of inclusive, diverse, and fun events throughout the year. The Vietnamese visitors also shared details about their own pride festivals in Hanoi and gave the speakers postcards with photos of the celebrations. The meeting ended with Joe reaching out to a board member and owner of Studio 13, a local LGBTQ bar, to give them VIP access to the weekend drag shows!

Meeting with Joe Reilly and Lisa Skriver of Iowa City Pride.

They headed to Kalona Historical Village on Saturday where they learned about the Amish and Mennonite communities.


“I enjoyed the visit to Kalona village. I never thought there would be such an interesting village in the U.S. That evening, I called back to tell my family and friend in Vietnam about Kalona,” wrote participant Viet Anh Le.


On Sunday, they had several suggested activities for their free day, including a visit to the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art and Piano Sundays at the Old Capitol Museum.


Meeting with PFLAG (Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays).

On Monday, they went to the Cedar Rapids Public Library for a meeting with PFLAG (Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays). The visitors met with Jen Rowray, the president of PFLAG, who shared her journey of activism in her community and adoption. In addition, Mr. and Mrs. Patterson attended to share their experience of being parents to a gay son and their journey. Their openness to share created an atmosphere of trust and safety where the visitors could engage in conversation about topics such as supporting LGBTQI+ children and parents, raising awareness and inclusivity, the influence of media, and AIDS prevention services.


After this meeting, they had time to rest before heading to Global Ties Iowa’s Annual Membership Meeting Potluck. The Vietnamese visitors were so generous and prepared delicious spring rolls for our community to enjoy. Mr. Bao Chau Nguyen, introduced as “handsome Chau”, spoke at our event and shared with us their learning objectives for this program and the current LGBTQ movement in Vietnam. It was inspiring to hear about the work the delegation members are doing in their communities in Vietnam.

Mr. Bao Chau Nguyen speaks at the Global Ties Iowa Annual Meeting.

The next day they had their final professional meeting with the LGBTQ Youth Center at Tanager Place. Lori Ampey and Mike Hines gave them a tour of the LGBTQ center and talked about their programs that support LGBTQ youth. This was especially interesting to the visitors since they shared LGBTQ youth centers do not exist in Vietnam. Their discussion ended with another tour led by Tresa Sterns of the entire center including a psychology clinic and programs for autistic children.


Thank you so much to Mayor Bruce Teague; Redmond Jones, Deputy City Manager; Stefanie Bowers, Equity and Human Rights Director; Ashley Lindley, Human Rights Commission Member; Sergeant Andrew McKnight, Police Planning and Research; Detective Jeff Fink, Police Investigations; Veronica May, Police Community Outreach; Joe Reilly and Lisa Skriver of Iowa City Pride; Jen Rowray, President of PFLAG; Mr. and Mrs. Patterson of PFLAG; and Lori Ampey, Mike Hines, and Tresa Sterns of the LGBTQ Youth Center at Tanager Place for serving as professional resources for this delegation.


In addition, thank you kindly to Ken and Gayle Royar and Steve Merkel-Hess for volunteering your time to greet and escort these visitors.


“I truly appreciated the time and enthusiasm that Global Ties Iowa volunteers had given us during our stay. Right from the moment I arrived at the airport, to the hotel, and the meetings, I was welcomed and fully supported” said Viet Anh Le.

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