The rainbow hues of LGBT pride observances bathe public buildings in cities across the country and around the world this month — displays rendered starkly poignant after Sunday’s massacre at a gay-themed nightclub in Orlando.
In Idaho, as in the rest of the country, flags fly at half-staff in memory of that Florida city’s 49 victims. But even against that tragic backdrop, getting rainbow lights turned on here is not as simple as throwing a switch.
Boise Pridefest culminates this weekend with a festival in the park that fronts the state Capitol. State officials say they cannot fulfill a request from organizers to set the Capitol lights to the rainbow spectrum for the occasion due to technical limitations of the system.
But in a state that has wrestled for more than a decade with extending civil rights protections to cover the LGBT community, political limitations appear in play as well.
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“Other Capitols all over the country are lit up,” said Rodney Busbee, director of the Boise Pridefest event. “It just seems like the right thing.”
White lights adorn the Capitol’s iconic 208-foot-tall dome. LED lights bathe its front façade and can be set to different colors — but not more than one color at a time, the state official who oversees the Capitol said Tuesday.
“As sympathetic as we want to be on this issue, there’s no way for us to make the Capitol look like a rainbow,” said Bob Geddes, director of the state Department of Administration.
“You can put any color of the spectrum on there. We’ve made the lights blue for national autism week. We’ve made them red for hemophilia (awareness). I can’t make them red, white and blue, or a rainbow.”
Geddes said that the state would leave the Capitol lights on for the event and that Pridefest organizers were free to project their own rainbow lights on the building. Busbee said that’s probably what they’ll do.
But no one mentioned technical difficulties prior to Tuesday, Busbee said.
Pridefest organizers first asked about the lights about a month ago. Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, took up the cause. Though the initial response from the state was promising, eventually the answer was no: Rainbow lights were too political.
Wintrow tried again with Geddes on Monday in the wake of Sunday’s shooting rampage at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, now the deadliest shooting attack in U.S. history. The director, she said Tuesday, “gave me the impression that the topic was too political.”
“If he’s saying it’s technical issues, he never shared that with me,” she said.
After speaking with the Statesman on Tuesday, Wintrow sent Geddes an email seeking clarification. The Statesman was copied on the exchange.
“I thought the determination was based on the issue being ‘too political,’ ” Wintrow wrote to Geddes. “I may have heard wrong.”
Geddes responded: “I did indicate to you that I did not want to make the lighting of the Capitol a political issue. I still believe that is an appropriate decision.”
He continued: “Since our discussion, I have received many emails and phone calls requesting that the Capitol be illuminated in rainbow colors. I have confirmed with my staff and as I responded to (the Statesman’s) questions, the lighting system does not provide the capability to illuminate the building with a rainbow effect.”
Technical issues of lighting aside, Idaho’s LGBT community has for years lobbied the Legislature to add civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity to state law. Hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested in Capitol protests in recent years in acts of civil disobedience. Attempts at compromise remain out of reach in the Republican-dominated Legislature.
But lighting the Capitol should not be considered a political statement, Busbee said. Rather, it is a humanitarian one.
“It’s not saying that anyone in that house stands for the colors that are on the house,” he said. “It’s just saying that we care.”
Origin of pride colors
The striped rainbow flag is a symbol of peace, unity and diversity. It was first adopted as a symbol for the LGBT community in San Francisco in 1978. The flag was originally eight colors, but two were dropped for production reasons as demand for the flags increased. The colors and what they represent are red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), blue (harmony) and purple (spirit).