Coeur d’Alene’s Pride in the Park enjoyed its largest crowd ever last year in downtown Coeur d’Alene with over 2,500 attendees. It also drew a nationwide audience when 31 masked members of a white nationalist group were arrested on its way downtown to apparently disrupt the Pride celebration.
The seventh annual Pride in the Park returns 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at City Park.
Sarah Lynch, executive director of North Idaho Pride Alliance, which hosts the celebration, hopes for its biggest turnout yet but anticipates protesters.
“I do expect folks to exercise their right to free speech, and that’s fine,” Lynch said.
On the day of the Pride event last year, police in Coeur d’Alene pulled over a U-Haul truck on Northwest Boulevard and arrested 31 Patriot Front members who were suspected of conspiring to riot downtown.
The men came from all over the country, including Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah, and were equipped with riot gear, smoke grenades and other items, police said.
One of the men, Alexander Sisenstein, of Midvale, Utah, has since been sentenced; a few have warrants for failing to appear in court; and the rest have trials set for this summer.
Sisenstein was sentenced in November to two years of unsupervised probation and a $500 fine after pleading guilty to disturbing the peace.
Jared Boyce, of Springville, Utah, did not appear for his December pretrial conference and a warrant was issued, according to the Idaho Court Portal. In April, Boyce pleaded guilty to child pornography charges in Utah County, according to media outlets.
Prior to the Patriot Front arrests, a group of people at the park held signs and sang hymns, protesting the celebration that day. About 100 people, including Panhandle Patriots and former Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, walked to several downtown buildings to protest the Pride event and support freedom of speech, guns and other values.
Coeur d’Alene Police Department Chief Lee White said last year at least two people were arrested that day at City Park for disorderly conduct and trespassing charges. At least three warnings were issued to others.
Coeur d’Alene police and the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to multiple requests for comment about their plans to ensure Saturday’s event runs smoothly.
Some kind of law enforcement presence can be expected Saturday. Last June’s event featured several police officers at City Park.
“We built some relationships with them last year sort of at the last minute with the situations that we were thrown into, so we’ve kind of nurtured those relationships and made sure that we are in communication as we lead up to this Pride in the Park,” Lynch said.
Lynch said she was unaware of large protests planned Saturday. She said she asked that attendees not engage with protesters.
“In the event of a protest, follow the mindset of a peacekeeper,” North Idaho Pride Alliance’s website says. “Do not engage in negative dialogue or debate. Debating only serves to reinforce their belief they have a valid position … Focus your energy on the community celebration rather than those attempting to distract from the purpose of our event. They want attention. Don’t give it to them.”
The event will feature almost 70 vendors, including food trucks, nonprofits and businesses, Lynch said. There were a little more than 50 vendors last year.
Lynch said bands and a disc jockey will provide musical entertainment.
During the opening ceremonies, Lynch said a Coeur d’Alene city council member will read a proclamation from Mayor Jim Hammond that recognizes June as Pride Month.
Lynch said the purpose of Pride in the Park is to create a safe space for LGBTQ people in North Idaho to come together and support each other.
“Pride is a celebration of our ability to live authentically,” she said. “It’s also a sanctuary and a place of healing and a source of support for people who aren’t safe to live authentically. And then it’s a time where we can remember those who have suffered and sacrificed so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today to live authentically.”
Visit nipridealliance.com/cda4pride2023 for more Pride events this month. The Spokane Pride Parade & Festival is June 10.