Boise's gay community feels winds of change

Some gay youths see a brighter future in Idaho as the national conversation continues to expand.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comJune 16, 2013 

  • ABOUT KATY MOELLER

    Katy has been in newspapers for 19 years. She's a generalist who enjoys reporting on a variety of issues that directly affect readers' lives.

Josh Parrish grew up in Nampa and was the valedictorian of Nampa High School's class of 2011.

He came out as gay his sophomore year, and later founded a group to support students who might feel marginalized for many reasons, including their sexual orientation.

Parrish left Idaho for his college studies, he said, because he was interested in getting involved in the global push for equality for all people - including those who are gay, lesbian bisexual or transgendered, also known as GLBT.

"Washington (D.C.) seemed like the ideal choice to gain those experiences," said Parrish, an American University student who interned at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force during his freshman year.

Back in the Treasure Valley for a few weeks, the 19-year-old planned to participate in Boise Pride events Saturday. Like other young GLBT leaders with Idaho roots, he has mixed feelings about his home state's track record.

"I'm very proud of the six towns and cities that have passed nondiscrimination ordinances," he said. "But then again, we are kind of late."

Marisol Cervantes, a 19-year-old freshman at the College of Idaho, said the ordinances are a step in the right direction.

"I've grown up in a red state, and I'm aware of that," said Cervantes, who once identified herself as a lesbian but now prefers the umbrella term "queer."

MUNICIPALITIES LEAD, WILL STATE FOLLOW?

City ordinances that ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender have been adopted in Boise, Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint, Pocatello, Moscow and Ketchum.

Sandpoint took the lead in Idaho, adopting its ordinance in December 2011. Boise's ordinance was adopted last November.

The seven-year push to get a statewide ban on discrimination - known in recent years as the "Add the Words" campaign - has not moved legislators to action. The 2013 Legislature's State Affairs committees heard a presentation on the topic in March, but didn't review legislation.

"Idaho, as a state, lags behind the rest of the country," said Ryan Gregg, who is serving his second term as president of the student body at Boise State University. "We're not really the leader in anything, except minimum wage jobs."

Gregg is a 2009 graduate of Centennial High. "I also happen to be a homo," his Twitter bio says.

He said he was representing 22,000 university students when he advocated for Boise's nondiscrimination ordinance last year.

"We have students from every state in the union and 26 different countries. It's silly for us to say, 'Send us your kids and we'll take care of them,' when they're not protected from discrimination in some areas."

COURT RULINGS, SCOUT POLICY AFFECT DEBATE

Parrish grew up in a Mormon family, but parted ways with the church as a child. He wants to one day get married and raise a family, and that's a big part of why he doesn't envision a long-term future in his home state.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia recognize marriage between same-sex couples. Idaho does not.

"As much as I love Idaho, I can't see that kind of change happening," Parrish said. "It would have to come from any huge changes made by the Supreme Court."

The U.S. Supreme Court's decisions on two same-sex marriage cases - the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8 - could come this week.

DOMA is a federal law that defines marriage as between only a man and a woman. Prop 8 is a same-sex marriage ban that California voters passed in 2008 and was then struck down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In May, one of the biggest recent policy shifts affecting gay youngsters nationwide came from the Boy Scouts of America, which ended its ban against openly gay Scouts; the prohibition against gay adults participating as leaders was left in place.

The decision prompted mixed reactions in Idaho. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which charters many troops in the state, released a letter expressing continued support for Scouting.

In Southwest Idaho, one adult member associated with the Ore-Ida Boy Scout Council stopped participating as a troop leader because of the policy change, said David Kemper, the council's executive.

"We haven't had any units drop," he said of the council, which has 14,000 participants. He's fielded only two phone calls on the topic.

Idaho Falls resident Dave McGrath, an Eagle Scout who served as a scoutmaster for two decades, marched in the honor guard at Saturday's Boise Pride Festival parade.

He was joined by Steven Bradford, an Eagle Scout from Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Eagle Scout Jonathan Downing from Coeur d'Alene.

"My message is that there's quality people who are gay," McGrath said.

Two weeks ago, McGrath, whose twin brother and two sons are gay, marched in a gay pride parade in Salt Lake City to celebrate the Boy Scouts' change in policy.

McGrath and his son, Joseph, rode bicycles 1,800 miles last month to Boy Scouts headquarters in Irving, Texas, before the policy change was approved.

TIPPING POINT?

The Boise Pride Festival, organized by volunteers, was launched in 1990. It kicks off with a morning rally on the Capitol steps, then turns into a parade through Downtown and, finally, a party in Ann Morrison Park.

Boisean Peter Mundt, who has organized the rally for the event the past two years, is optimistic about how local and national changes could affect the gay community here.

"It's a real tipping point," he said. "It's a watershed moment. The broader community is realizing the need for equality."

Mundt, digital media production manager at HealthWise, said he is looking forward to the day he can legally marry his partner of nine years.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service