Sunday, June 22, 2014

Remembering the University of Iowa's Infamous "Gerbil Quilt"

A local politician was reminiscing earlier today about Iowa City Pride events from decades past. She was thinking back to the very early 90s. Back then, there was a University of Iowa Republican leader/Campus Review editor-in-chief named Jeff Renander who would take pictures of everyone who showed up to the Pride Festival. He would then attempt to use the images of these individuals against them. He might place their images on posters, which would then be hung around campus. Or he might send their Pride pictures to their employers or to their families. They also tried using Iowa City Pride pics of political folks in order to scuttle their election campaigns.

Fortunately, this type of thing doesn't hold as much power as it used to. But there is power to living in the most progressive community in Iowa and to being out as a gay person on your own terms.

I heard the name of this Campus Review guy and it struck a memory cord. I did a quick search and suddenly remembered how I know of Renander. He and the Campus Review staff created a mock AIDS Quilt called the "Gerbil Quilt" during the 1990 Gay Pride Festival.

Check out this excerpt from The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education by John K. Wilson:
While the board of regents worried about any mention of homosexuality on campus, they did not object to homophobia. Jeff Renander, editor of the University of Iowa's conservative Campus Review, brags that during a 1990 Gray Pride Rally, "my friends and I demonstrated against the abuse of gerbils by certain segments of the gay community. (We had a gerbil graveyard with 50 little white crosses, and our infamous gerbil quilt.)" Again, in September 1993, when the AIDS Quilt was exhibited at the University of Iowa, the Campus Review staff brought out the gerbil quilt. Accuracy in Academia reported the event with approval: "The 'Gerbil Quilt,' consisting of 25 patchwork squares each depicting a gerbil, was put on display in a glass case in the student union along with a copy of The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS by Michael Fumento and displays of statistics from the Centers for Disease Control which showed that AIDS ranks only twelfth among the leading causes of death in the United States. Gerbils were chosen for this quilt because of the role they play in certain homosexual practices."
The Gerbil Quilt was inspired by this urban legend.

What I didn't realize until today is that Campus Review's Jeff Renander has grown up over the past 25 years and has a job of some responsibility. He is the Cedar County Attorney! Just a little something to keep tucked away in the back of your head should you ever get prosecuted for anything as an LGBT person in neighboring Cedar County, Iowa!

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