‘We are a welcoming city across the board’: Thousands celebrate Boise Pride Festival

Saturday morning marked the eighth or ninth time Joe Seiders has attended Boise Pride. For his father and foster son, Bradley, however, it marked the first.

Having grown up in the Treasure Valley, Seiders, a member of the LGBTQ community, has seen firsthand how much the Pride movement has grown in his home state.

Having his father and, particularly, Bradley take part in the festivities meant the world.

“I want him to see that there’s a lot of other families that have two dads, too,” said Seiders, a social worker who went to Fruitland High School. “He’s not the only one in that boat. I want him to see other kiddos in the same situation.”

The 30th annual Pride Fest in Boise took place at its usual spot, in front of the Idaho Capitol and at Cecil D. Andrus Park. The two-day festival, which Boise Pride Vice President Joseph Kibbe said is expected to attract around 55,000 visitors, is one of thousands of similar events taking place around the country this month.

The festivals run concurrently with LGBTQ Pride Month, which takes place every June. The timing of the month lines up with the memorial of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City from 1969, according to the Library of Congress. On June 28, 1969, police raided a gay club in Manhattan; community members responded with six days of protests that “served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world,” according to the History Channel.

Boise’s festival seeks “to create a community in Boise that consistently celebrates the diversity of sexual orientations and identities constantly,” according to its website.

“Whoever you are or what you are or who you love, who you’re living with, it really doesn’t matter to produce a vibrant and productive city and a safe city,” Kibbe said. “And I just think that’s the message that gets reinforced now. It’s just changed and progressed over time.”

Among the speakers who took to the Capitol’s steps prior to the parade was Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. After addressing the crowd, Bieter headed a few blocks away to attend World Refugee Day and welcome the city’s newest American citizens.

“We are a welcoming city across the board,” Bieter said. “To be the mayor on a day like this is something special.”

The 30th anniversary of Boise Pride featured extra dramatics, as officials told festival organizers on May 11 they would not be able to light up the Capitol as they did traditionally. Last year, the state Department of Administration announced it would no longer be taking applications from groups hoping to do light shows.

Instead, organizers set up lights at Cecil D. Andrus Park and projected them onto the Capitol. The festival received $7,500 in donations from Albertsons and Oregon’s Hotbox Farms for high-powered lighting.

Kibbe said there were 12,000 people on hand for the lighting and fireworks Friday night, and the event went off without any hitches.

“The police department ... and Idaho State Police and the Capitol guard were in constant communication yesterday,” Kibbe said. “No major incidents.”

The first Boise Pride Fest took place in 1989 as a fairly small gathering. Since then, it has grown to include crowds upward of 50,000 people, as it did in 2018. Sponsors include Wells Fargo, Albertsons, Micron, Walmart and Bud Light.

Kibbe, who said he has attended every festival since 1989, still remembers the first ones. A total of 25 or 30 people took part for what was then termed “Freedom Day”; people were forced to wear paper bags on their heads to remain anonymous, he said.

Though Boise has come a long way, the city has its own history of aggression toward the LGBTQ community. In 1977, the Boise Police Department fired seven female officers on suspicion of being lesbian, according to OutHistory.org and Diversity News Idaho.

In 1955, the Boys of Boise scandal rocked the Gem State. Per previous Statesman reporting:

“Three men were arrested for engaging in what the Statesman described as ‘immoral acts involving teenage boys.’ The arresting probation officer said the investigation had only ‘scratched the surface,’ alleging that more than 100 young men and teenage boys were involved in sexual acts with a ring of adult homosexual men. Eventually, 16 men would be charged. ...

“The inquiry went beyond charging men who committed crimes with underage boys to convicting men who had encounters as consenting adults. At the time, homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and homosexual sex was a criminal act. The prevailing attitudes of the era conflated morality and criminality, and Boise was no exception.”

One Statesman article began with, “The Boise community, face to face with a homosexual situation exposed to public realization, comes now to the time when shock and disgust must be replaced with calm and calculated analysis.”

The Statesman also ran an editorial in the 1950s titled “Crush the Monster” as an attempt to quell the “homosexual situation.”

Fast-forward to 2019, as thousands lined the streets of Boise in support, and Kibbe can’t believe how far things have come. He said nearly 40 percent of the crowd is made up of allies, not members of the LGBTQ community.

Boise has an openly gay mayoral candidate for the upcoming election in Matt Kilburn.

“There’s a lot of individuals that I think forget, in their daily lives, that you may know someone who is an LGBT individual or have a family member or a loved one,” Kibbe said. “And this is just a great way to come out and support them and know they’re loved and cared for.”

There is still work to be done, Kibbe said, particularly at the state level. “Add the Words,” which would provide discrimination protections for all in the Idaho Human Rights Act, has yet to pass the Republican-dominated Legislature. And while Boise has come a long way in terms of acceptance, the same cannot be said for other parts of the state, Kibbe said.

But progress is still progress. And for someone like Seiders, who grew up in an environment that wasn’t always this accepting, Saturday showed what the Treasure Valley is made of.

“Things have changed a lot from when I was in high school. … There was no such thing as being gay or being out,” he said. “It’s come tremendously far from then. Now, kiddos can feel free to be themselves. ... It’s a sense of their identity.”

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