Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gay Iowa History: Bill Crews

Gay and lesbian voices from Iowa, or related to our state, almost always (until recently) been edited out or obscured. This is an attempt during National LGBT History Month to identify some of those men and women with Iowa links who have spoken through literature, media, the arts and other ways --- and made a difference.

CREWS, BILL, public official: Although Bill Crews is hardly a household name in Iowa now, that was not the case during the 1990s when the former mayor of Melbourne, population 700, gained nationwide attention.

Born July 12, 1952, Crews was on the staff of then-Gov. Robert D. Ray, and like the governor a moderate Republican (at a time when there still were such critters), when he purchased a home in Melbourne during 1984 with his partner, Steve, because it was about half way between their respective jobs in Des Moines and Marshalltown. Three months later, he was appointed mayor --- in large part because no one else would take the job.

Crews became an effective leader of the little town and was elected mayor in his own right during 1985 and 1991. Although most in Melbourne were aware that Crews and his partner were gay, it was not a topic discussed by anyone until 1993, when Bill and Steve attended the the March on Washington of that year for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. Crews had written an opinion piece for The Des Moines Register, effectively coming out on a grand scale, that was published in their absence. When the two men returned home they discovered graffiti scrawled on the walls of their home: "Get out," "No faggots," "Melbourne hates gays." A portion of the home's interior also had been vandalized. This became a news story covered in nearly every market nationwide.

That, among other considerations, spurred Crews to become for a time the best-known gay activist in the state. He also became a major spokesman for gay Iowans, since he was always willing to speak to reporters. Re-elected mayor in 1995 he very well could still be mayor --- considering how small Iowa towns work --- had he and his partner not moved to Washington, D.C., during 1998.

In the District of Columbia, Crews has worked as a consultant and held a variety of appointive and elective posts, including zoning administrator of the District of Columbia and advisory neighborhood commissioner for the Capitol Hill district. He currently works as a performance management analyst and strategic planner for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, headed by Iowan Tom Vilsack. Oh yes, he has long since re-registered as a Democrat.

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