BOISE — Though there was no rain, downtown Boise radiated hues from a rainbow Friday and Saturday as the 29th Boise Pride Festival took place.
The festival began Friday evening, wrapping up the night with a Capitol lighting ceremony and fireworks show, and resumed Saturday morning with a rally at the Capitol, a parade and festivities continuing into wee hours of the night. It’s title sponsor was Wells Fargo, but it also received support from Albertsons, Coors Light, Micron, Paylocity and other companies.
Pride banners have adorned streets downtown and Boise City Hall for weeks in recognition of LGBTQ pride month. A banner signed by Mayor Dave Bieter, other officials and activists is now stored in the Boise State University’s LGBT History Archives.
Organizers expected it to draw up to 30,000 people throughout the two days.
The biggest pride celebration in the Gem State, it attracted people from beyond the Treasure Valley, like Atticus Charles, a teenager from Jerome.
Involved in the Youth Alliance for Diversity, a group open for young LGBTQ folks and allies, Charles reflected on his experiences. He’s a member of the LGBTQ community and said his parents haven’t been supportive.
“You see, my journey hasn’t been all that great. … but it truly does get better,” Charles said to a crowd of thousands at the rally. “I can tell you this right here right now, because I have been through everything you can feel.
“Things may be looking down right now but please, keep your head up. Stay strong. Stay alive,” he continued. “You matter. You are loved. This entire community loves you.”
The event — while embracing diversity, inclusion and increasing social acceptance of LGBTQ identities — was as much political as it was a time of celebration.
Perhaps the loudest and most emblematic moment of the rally was when a crowd of a few thousand joined Mistie Tolman, Idaho legislative director and public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, in a chant.
“Say that with me!” Tolman told the crowd, as they yelled back, “We are resilient! We are powerful! We are strong!”
That chant underscored a central point she and several other speakers touched on.
Although the days of such blatant discrimination present during the Stonewall riots of 1969 — which sparked the LGBTQ rights movement and led to June becoming pride month — are long gone, they said there are still shortfalls in discrimination protections.
Despite years of lobbying efforts in the statehouse, including a string of protests resulting in arrests, the Idaho Human Rights Act doesn’t offer discrimination protections for “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.”
It only includes race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Fourteen Idaho municipalities have, however, added the protections to anti-discrimination laws locally, according to Add the Words, a group pushing for statewide protections.
Judy Cross, who helped plan the original Boise Pride Festival, said participants at the first gathering in 1989 shared similar fears.
She said people attending the first festival wore paper bags over their head to avoid being recognized as protestors yelled slurs and pushed back against the event.
“They were afraid of losing their jobs, getting kicked out of school, losing homes, just all kinds of discrimination,” Cross said. “There were a lot of people that were too afraid to be out but wanted to be there.”
Cross also participated in protests at the Capitol when trying to push for change in the statehouse, and said she was arrested eight times.
The protests were peaceful, she said, and the broader “Add the Words” movement has since began discussions with individual legislators directly, but its message for protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination still remains.
“It’s not happening as openly, especially in Boise, but in some of the small towns around us that don’t have any non-discrimination clauses in their laws — it’s happening,” Cross said.
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