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Dressed in Drag

By Liz Zabel

Zach Houborg knew he was gay in middle school. His parents, who are still not accepting of his sexuality, encouraged him to turn to the church, where they believed religion could “save” him.

“I kept pushing it off, even though I always knew…no matter how hard I tried, God was not going to make me straight,” says Houborg, who decided to embrace his sexuality by ‘coming out’ during his freshman year of college.

College typically provides students not only with a liberal atmosphere for forming diversified opinions on social issues, according to Houborg, but also more opportunities to safely express themselves in the four (or sometimes more) years of change, meeting new people and exploring new things.

“You should not be ashamed of [experimenting]…you should not be afraid of change,” says Houborg. “A lot of people are afraid of change [and] of what makes them uncomfortable. I think that is one of the main reasons why we have such homophobia in some places…because people are afraid of what makes them uncomfortable or what they don’t understand. Me coming out has made me a better person because when I come up with something I don’t feel comfortable with…I look at those issues and face them head on and do something better with them.”

Now a senior in landscape architecture at Iowa State, Houborg says he’s completely comfortable in his sexuality and is still an active member in the religious community. In fact, Houborg leads the Students for Progressive Christianity as president of the organization. The group aims to shed new light on Christianity by emphasizing social justice and equality. All who are interested are welcome, including members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Allies (LGBTA) community.

“I’m really focused on bridging the gap between [religion] and homosexuality,” says Houborg.

“When someone comes out—when it comes to their spirituality or God—they either run to the church like I did and try to pray to Jesus that maybe they’ll become straight…or [they] run away from the church,” says Houborg. “I think there should be more of a middle ground, more of a conversation between the LGBT community and the religious community.”

In the end, Houborg says it comes down to what everyone has in common—everyone is human, has their own story and their own struggle—to him, it’s wrong to compare one person’s struggle to another’s.

“Everyone is different,” says Houborg. “But we’re all human. We all deserve to be treated equally [and] to be given a chance to be understood.”

This year, Houborg participated in the first of two drag shows put on by the LGBT Alliance throughout the year at Iowa State. The proceeds for this drag show went toward the Alliance’s cost of attendance to the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC), an annual conference held by a different college each year with various workshops tailored to the LGBTA community. The first ever MBLGTACC conference was held at Iowa State in 1993. This year, the conference will be in Kansas City, MO from Feb. 7 to 9.

Blake Miller, president of the LGBT Alliance, says that the drag show allows participants to express themselves as a community while promoting diversity.

“Life is a drag show, really,” says Miller. “We’re all just minds putting on a show [with our bodies]…the only true differences we have are the bodies. We’re all just people…to force people into gender boxes does a disservice to the human experience. Everything is a spectrum. There’s no black and white.”

Houborg tried drag for the first time at the Alliance’s drag show on Oct. 31, 2013, dancing and lip-syncing to “Not Fair” by Lily Allen.

Watch the video to learn more about his first-time experience.