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Coeur d’Alene’s Pride in the Park organizers focus on the positive, despite an opposing event

Attendees gather for Coeur d’Alene’s Pride in the Park.  (Photo courtesy of the North Idaho Pride Alliance)
Attendees gather for Coeur d’Alene’s Pride in the Park. (Photo courtesy of the North Idaho Pride Alliance)

Organizers of Coeur d’Alene’s Pride in the Park event are hoping for a smooth day on Saturday despite another group, Panhandle Patriots, hosting an opposing event nearby.

Coeur d’Alene police said they haven’t received any “verifiable information” that groups are coming to the city to “engage in riotous conduct” during either of the scheduled events.

The North Idaho Pride Alliance’s annual Pride in the Park is scheduled between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in City Park. The same day, between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., the Panhandle Patriots have scheduled an event in nearby McEuen Park.

Tension rose last month after a member of the Panhandle Patriots was on video saying that they needed to “go head-to-head with these people,” referring to the Pride in the Park event, and that “a line needs to be drawn in the sand.” After being introduced by Idaho state Rep. Heather Scott, the group member said, “Good people need to stand up. … We say, damn the repercussions.”

The club’s president, who identified himself by “Viper” but is named Mike Birdsong, according to the Inlander, said no one wants to cause violence at Pride in the Park.

“If anybody went down there to do that, Panhandle Patriots would go down there and turn them away,” he said. “We’re not anti-gay by any means.”

However, he said he is troubled by what he called “indoctrination” of children through events like drag queen story hour and certain literature available to children at libraries.

Pride in the Park has received some negativity from anti-LGBTQ groups in the past, but it has gotten worse, said Sam Koester, president of the North Idaho Pride Alliance’s board.

“This year we’ve experienced an unprecedented amount of their negativity,” he said. “That’s always a super scary thing to think about, especially with all the mass shootings happening in the country. Safety is very important for us.”

He said the event is taking extra precautions to make sure all attendees are safe.

Coeur d’Alene police declined to provide details for its plans on Saturday, but said in a news release that it was increasing staffing.

“While there have been some videos and posts that may be concerning to some individuals, none of the information we have seen thus far rises to the level of criminal conduct,” the release said. “We understand that the majority of attendees are planning for a peaceful gathering.”

Koester doesn’t anticipate that the opposing groups will interact because of the different time slots the city of Coeur d’Alene permitted them for the events. Ultimately, he’s trying to focus on the positives.

“Everyone at NIPA, we all know that the better event we can put on – the more people can come out and enjoy it – it’s all worth it in the end,” Koester said. “Our visibility helps so many people in our community be happy and be themselves.”

Some of the negative attention also has turned into a positive, he said. People across the country have taken notice of some of the sensationalized stories and have responded with donations and different partnerships to support the North Idaho Pride Alliance, Koester said.

This year marks the sixth annual Pride in the Park. The event was virtual in 2020 and was dispersed throughout the city to facilitate social distancing in 2021.

“We encourage everyone to remain respectful of one another and have a safe weekend,” Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said.

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