Businesses embrace LGBTQ festival, rights even in conservative Idaho. Here’s why

Watch giant rainbow flag parade through Downtown Boise during Pride Fest

Supporters parade a giant rainbow flag through Downtown Boise during the annual Boise Pride Fest Parade Saturday, June 15, 2019.
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Supporters parade a giant rainbow flag through Downtown Boise during the annual Boise Pride Fest Parade Saturday, June 15, 2019.

At the first Boise Pride Festival in 1989, 20 years after the infamous Stonewall riots in New York City, participants wore masks or paper bags over their heads to shield their identities. They were afraid of being identified by co-workers, bosses, friends and acquaintances.

Contrast that with last weekend’s festival. It drew 55,000 people, none hiding. And, in a state that is still socially conservative, businesses embraced the two-day festival.

Eighty-six companies, from giants Wells Fargo, Albertsons and Chobani, to smaller Alloway Lighting Co., Boise Fry Co. and Flying M Coffee, provided money and support to Pride Fest.

Clark Krause, executive director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, the recruitment arm of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, said that as Boise’s reputation as a great place to live has grown nationally, there is an expectation that it’s friendly to people of varying sexual orientations and identities, too.

“Not just employees but companies that are looking into this marketplace expect that everyone will be welcomed here and thrive here,” Krause said in a phone interview.

Many tech companies moving into the Treasure Valley are coming from the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle, two places known for their diversity and tolerance, he said.

“The companies will bring a diverse group with them,” Krause said. “A lot of times there will be someone from the LGBTQ community or there will be someone who is Jewish or South Indian. I think day in and day out we prove that this is a welcoming community.”

But LGBTQ Boiseans don’t always feel welcomed. After they shone rainbow-colored lights on the Capitol at last year’s festival, the state stopped approving requests for special lights for any events, saying it wished to avoid being associated with controversial or political events.

And years of effort have yet to persuade the Legislature to adopt “Add the Words” language to Idaho’s Human Rights Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ people in housing and employment.

Pride Festival organizers got around the state ban by shining their own lights onto the Capitol on Friday night from Cecil D. Andrus Park, formerly Capitol Park, across Jefferson Street from the Capitol.

They’re still hoping the Legislature will change its mind and add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the anti-discrimination statutes.

New York yogurt maker Chobani, which operates a factory in Twin Falls, took a step Tuesday to fuel those efforts. In an email to the Idaho Statesman, Chobani said it supports the change.

“Since day one, we’ve promoted diversity and inclusiveness within our workforce because we know that our company — and our communities — are stronger when our people are given opportunity and access,” Chobani said. “We’re a strong supporter of the Equality Act, and encourage legislators in Idaho to take action during the next legislative session to update the state’s non-discrimination law to prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”

Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, the chair of Add the Words Idaho, hopes other companies will take similar stands.

Her group collected signatures on petitions distributed during Pride Festivals across the state calling on vendors to widen their support.

“We’re asking them to do more than show up at a Pride Festival once a year,” Gaona-Lincoln said in a phone interview. “We want them to be allies and advocates all of the time and especially during the legislative session.”

Owners of small businesses may not be able to make large financial contributions to the cause, “but they could send an email or make a phone call,” Gaona-Lincoln said.

Other sponsors may find it hard to make even that commitment. One Boise Pride Festival sponsor, Utah-based Zions Bank, said it takes public positions only on legislative issues affecting the banking industry.

The bank’s hiring policy offers equal employment and advancement opportunities without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, Rob Brough, a Zions executive vice president, said in an email.

“Zions Bank values diversity and is dedicated to ensuring equality in the workplace,” Brough wrote. “Zions bank is happy to support Pride Fest because we are committed to bringing value to the community — and that means all of our communities.”

Micron Technology, another Pride Fest sponsor, “opposes discrimination in any form,” spokeswoman Erica Rodriguez Pompen said by phone. She said the company stresses attracting, developing and retaining top talent where people “feel valued for who they are, how they think and what they bring.”

She said she didn’t have anything to share on the legislation.

The organizers of Boise Pride Festival have been historically reluctant to delve into politics, including lobbying on behalf of the Add the Words campaign. As a tax-exempt 501(3)(c) organization, it may not devote a “substantial part” of its activities to influence legislation.

But they’ve made their positions clear, Pride spokesman Joseph Kibbe said in a phone interview.

“As we talk with our sponsors, we definitely share the message of what the landscape for LGBT individuals looks like,” Kibbe said. “We have those conversations and encourage them to reach out to legislators.”

Not everyone is pleased with local companies’ sponsorship of Boise Pride Festival.

Homedale resident Mark Browning, in a letter to the Statesman, criticized Albertsons for its Pride Festival sponsorship. The Boise company paid a sponsorship fee and also contributed a portion of the $7,500 cost to lease equipment to shine rainbow lights on the Idaho Capitol.

“I appreciate corporate sponsorship of worthwhile efforts to help needy people, but do not support Albertsons’ efforts to promote the LGBTQ lifestyle,” Browning wrote. “I will be voting with my pocketbook and shopping elsewhere.”

Albertsons did not respond to an interview request Monday. Some other Pride Festival sponsors the Statesman contacted, Wells Fargo, Fred Meyer, HP Inc. and Simplot Co., did not respond, either.

Earlier in June, however, Albertsons said it was proud of its $1,910 donation to “ensure that the colors of LGBTQ inclusion continue to shine brightly in our community.”

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.