Bobbie McKibbin

Date of Interview:  July 2, 2020

Interview Location: Stevensville, MT (recorded remotely via Zoom)

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Place of Birth: Philadelphia, PA

Birth Year: 1951

Occupation: college professor and artist

Interviewer: Elliot Wesselborg

Summary: Bobbie shares memories of growing up in an artistic family in Philadelphia, meeting her wife as an undergraduate, working as a professor of  studio art at Grinnell College, navigating decisions about medical transition, and the role of rural landscapes in her art.

Tom Collingsworth

LGBT Oral Histories of Central Iowa Listening Logo

Date of Interview: Sept. 22, 2020

Interview Location: recorded remotely from Grinnell, IA and Shoreham, NY

Pronouns: he/him

Place of Birth: Belmond, IA

Birth Year: 1971

Occupation: Retail assistant manager

Interviewer: Elliot Wesselborg

Summary: In this interview Tom discusses growing up in a small Iowan town and living in group homes as a teenager, his experiences of gay, rural hook-up culture in the 90s, navigating relationships with his husband’s adult children and life as an essential worker during Covid-19.

Stephany Hoffelt

Stephany preparing lunches with the Iowa City Mutual Aid Collective

Date of Interview: August 7, 2020

Interview Location: recorded remotely from Iowa City, IA and Shoreham, NY

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Place of Birth: Plattsville, WI

Birth Year: 1970

Occupation: Herbal Consultant and Educator

Interviewer: Elliot Wesselborg

Summary: Stephany discusses her activism and community organizing as a natural response to material injustices she witnessed and experienced growing up. She shares about her work as a herbalist, co-founding the Iowa City Mutual Aid Collective and their response to the crisis conditions of Covid-19 and her experiences as a medic during Black Lives Matter protests in Iowa City.

Heather Dunn


Date of Interview: August 3, 2020

Interview Location: Iowa City, IA and Shoreham, NY (recorded remotely)

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Place of Birth: Urbana, IL

Birth Year: 1982

Occupation: Mail Sorter

Interviewer: Elliot Wesselborg

Summary: Heather discusses her early experiences with leftist activism, her involvement and eventual disillusionment with conservative politics, being trans within lesbian communities, and finding an affirming faith community in an evangelical church. She also offers her thoughts on intergenerational dialogue among queer people and kink as a means of coping with dysphoria.

David E. Hays

Date of Interview: June 29, 2020

Interview Location: Waterloo, IA (recorded remotely)

Pronouns: he/him/his

Place of Birth: Iowa

Birth Year: 1951

Occupation: retired – Public Info Coordinator, Public Radio KUNI/KHKE

Interviewer: Elliot Wesselborg

Summary: David recalls the Waterloo gay bar scene of the 1970s and 80s, the emergence of local activism and an evolving sense of community in the face of HIV/AIDS and homophobia within recovery programs. He also discusses his own research into local gay history, describing a Waterloo sheriff’s efforts to arrest and institutionalize local gay men in 1960, the “gay purge” of students and faculty at University of Northern Iowa from 1965 to 1967 and the underground gay scene that existed prior to Waterloo’s first gay bar.

View and Download David Hays Transcript (PDF)

View and Download David Hays Transcript (TXT)

Why an Oral History of LGBT Central Iowa?

by Elliot Wesselborg

This archive is comprised of dozens of hours of audio recording generated from interviews with LGBT-identified Iowans. The content of interviews ranges from stories about childhood, to descriptions of bars, to encounters with health care providers, to remembering conversations with friends around a dinner table. Some of these accounts are amusing, others are sad. Some recount wild adventures, others describe moments of everyday life. Importantly, these interviews are not exactly what many people expect to find when they hear the word “history.”

What is unique about oral history?

Within the field of history, oral histories have traditionally been discounted as a means of examining the past. Historians relying mainly on written and visual records as source material have argued that oral narratives based in an individuals’ memory are not valuable sources of information because they are not objective. Advocates of oral history challenge how we approach this idea of “objectivity” and believe that oral testimony offers insights that cannot be found through other sources.

Alessandro Portelli and Hayden White were two early oral historians whose work reframed how academia thought about oral history. Portelli’s 1991 book The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories opens with a chapter describing how residents of an Italian town remembered the death of Trastulli, a steel worker. He found that many residents actually misremembered the circumstances of this event, placing the death in different years and locations than what was on record. Rather than discarding these accounts for their factual inaccuracies, Portelli argued that by examining how the story of this death is remembered and recounted, we can learn about the social and political landscape of the time. Trastulli’s death had become a symbol in a larger struggle for worker’s rights and the details were amended to make a compelling narrative about these efforts.

Hayden White’s work speaks to history as this narrativization of events. In producing a historical account, a historian does not simply repeat what happened, starting at one arbitrary point, ending at a different arbitrary point. Histories are told as stories with a narrative arc, laden with values and cultural meaning. They take on significance beyond the individual events to become stories of triumph or defeat or a lesson learned. There is no neutral or objective history; anytime we tell a history, we are telling a story about our understanding of the world.

Storytelling is one of the most important ways in which people and communities make sense of what has happened in their lives. How we tell a story about what happened is just as valuable as the particulars of what actually occurred. Through the medium of stories, we can learn about what matters to a community.

 What does oral history offer to LGBT communities?

 Beyond discussions of memory and storytelling, oral history is a means of bolstering an incomplete or limited historical record. Communities that do not have access to record-keeping or are not considered historically relevant aren’t included in traditional forms of historical documentation. Until recent decades, communities built largely around sexual relationships and gender non-conformity were not believed to have historical value. As such, these places, events and people often exist only in peoples’ memories or personal documents. Especially in Iowa, information about LGBT life in the state is not stored in ways that are accessible to the public or to future generations. When we sit down with a narrator, record an interview and make it publicly available, it ensures that this knowledge becomes part of the historical record beyond an individual person’s memory.

Individual experiences become a means through which to access information about society at large. One person’s narrative offers a snapshot of what life was like in a particular time and place. Through these accounts we can piece together a more complete history of LGBT lives in Iowa, as well as in the Midwest and rural areas more broadly.

Richard Gralnek


Date of Interview: May 5, 2020

Interview Location: Iowa (recorded remotely)

Pronouns: he/him

Place of Birth: Brooklyn, NY

Birth Year: 1948

Occupation: retired, worked for insurance companies

Interviewer: Elliot Wesselborg

Summary: Rich tells about growing up in Marshalltown, his early experiences dating girls, transitioning in Des Moines in the early 1980’s and his thoughts about aging as a trans person.

View and Download Richard Gralnek Interview Transcript (PDF)

View and Download Richard Gralnek Interview Transcript (.txt)

Drew O’Leary


Date of Interview: April 26, 2020

Interview Location: Iowa (recorded remotely)

Pronouns: he/him

Place of Birth: Cleveland, OH

Birth Year: 1982

Occupation: US Air Force, registered nurse, LGBT veteran care coordinator

Interviewer: Elliot Wesselborg

Summary: Drew talks about growing up in Iowa, coming out while working as a nurse in VA hospitals, providing LGBT-related services to veterans and his experiences dating gay men.