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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Resilience of the community’: Coeur d’Alene’s Pride in the Park stays peaceful after Patriot Front arrests last year

A year after a white nationalist group tried to disrupt Pride in the Park in Coeur d’Alene, the annual event returned and stayed focused on its roots: celebrating the LGBTQ community.

Tamara Kermelis, a Hayden resident, said she attended with her kids to show support. She said Pride at the Park felt more peaceful than last year – when she saw protesters open carrying assault rifles.

“I want to show my kids that we will not let the bullies win,” she said.

About 2,000 people attended the event at City Park, said Sam Koester, North Idaho Pride Alliance board chair. It featured about 70 booths from businesses, LGBTQ organizations, and other groups like Kootenai Health and the Community Library Network.

“A library is a public place. We welcome all,” said Cassie Robertson, library network spokeswoman, who worked at the library district’s Pride booth. “As librarians at this event, we want people to know we are available and here.”

Some local church leaders set up booths, inviting LGBTQ people to their church.

Jan Shannon told attendees from the park stage she was a minister at a small denomination but was kicked out of the church when she announced she was gay in 2006.

“It broke my heart, and for a time, it broke my spirit,” she said.

Shannon invited her church leader friends to the stage.

On the day of Pride in the Park last year, police pulled over a U-Haul on Northwest Boulevard and arrested 31 Patriot Front members suspected of conspiring to riot downtown. The men came from across the country, including Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah, and were equipped with riot gear, smoke grenades and other items, police said. Saturday, a few protesters wandered near and within the Pride event holding signs and yelling slogans, but most attendees ignored them.

About a dozen Coeur d’Alene police officers stood by the event in small groups. Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. Dave Hagar described Pride in the Park on Saturday as “very peaceful.” As the event ended, he said there had been no arrests. Last year, at least two people were arrested at the park and accused of disorderly conduct and trespassing, not including the Patriot Front arrests.

Hagar said in preparation for Pride in Park, the department “reached out to various members of the community” and kept a close eye on social media “just to make sure we had a safe event.”

The North Idaho Pride Alliance also organized a volunteer group of peacekeepers that often stood quietly near protesters, encouraging attendees not to engage with those opposing the event.

“We’re just not going to engage with them today,” said Whitney Pfeifer, board president of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene. “Today is a day of celebration, of joy.”

Rose Stevens, treasurer of Spokane Pride, said with so much anti-LGBTQ legislation moving forward in some states, including Idaho, it is important for Spokane Pride to show support for Pride events in Idaho.

“We can’t do much about Tennessee, but Idaho is our neighbor,” Stevens said. “We can show them the love and support that they need.”

Pfeifer also said it was important to attend given last year’s protesters and the anti-LGBTQ legislation drafted across the country.

“I think its important to come out and show the resilience of the community,” Pfeifer said. “That’s I think what pride means to a lot of people, right?”

Patrick Devine, founder of Pride for Peace in Spokane, waved colorful flags at the park to show his support for the LGBTQ community. He said it was “almost duty” to attend the event after the Patriot Front incident.

“It’s long past tolerance,” Devine said. “It’s time for acceptance. Total acceptance.”

Last year, Spokane Pride held its parade on the same day as Pride in the Park. Stevens said Spokane Pride and North Idaho Pride coordinated this year so they did not overlap.

Blu Montgomery, a Spokane resident who uses they-them pronouns, said they were anxious attending the event after threats made last year. But they said it was important to show support for being open and proud. Montgomery performs as a drag queen in Spokane under the name Renee Heather Bluz.

Sarah Cooper recently moved to Spokane from Montana, in part to live in a more tolerant community. She came to Pride in the Park with her nonbinary child.

“This is their first Pride, and they are super excited to participate,” Cooper said. “It’s so cool watching them be themselves.”