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Boise Pridefest remembers Orlando victims amid celebration

Idaho Capitol lights up for Boise Pridefest

Organizers brought lights to display rainbow colors across the front of the Statehouse both Friday and Saturday nights, June 17 and 18, 2016.
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Organizers brought lights to display rainbow colors across the front of the Statehouse both Friday and Saturday nights, June 17 and 18, 2016.

Hundreds gathered in Downtown Boise on Saturday to take part in the city’s annual Pridefest activities, where last week’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando hung heavy over the traditionally celebratory event.

Prior to a rally in front of the Statehouse at 11 a.m., attendees were in good spirits but quick to bring up the deadliest shooting in U.S. history, in which a gunman killed 49, or comment on the clusters of law enforcement officers dotting the crowd on the Capitol steps as part of a beefed-up security effort.

“Every LGBT business, venue and location has reviewed, re-evaluated and reconstructed their security policies,” said rally organizer Matt Bragg. “We’re not going to let certain people win.”

In addition to the focus on security, Bragg said, organizers worked to make the day’s events equal parts celebration and memorial.

“We had an interesting time trying to figure out the tone,” he said. “It’s been a well thought out process this week, how to not make it into a funeral, but keep it as celebratory as possible.”

The opening rally was tinged with humor, pride, political nods and mourning, with Boise Mayor Dave Bieter calling for “common-sense gun laws” and advocating for the Add the Words movement, or the inclusion of the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s Human Rights Act. Both Bieter and Idaho Rep. Melissa Wintrow referenced the state’s inability to cast rainbow-colored lights on the Capitol, with Wintrow expressing apparent skepticism that the denial was a technical issue rather than a political one.

As speakers wrapped up, fundraisers began collections for Orlando, the rainbow-hued parade began its tour down Jefferson Street, and the crowd — which Bragg called the biggest in Boise Pride’s history — dissipated into nearby Capitol Park, where Wells Fargo, Planned Parenthood, Add the Words, and more businesses and organizations, including several local churches, had set up booths.

Thousands of supporters gather at Capitol Park in Downtown Boise for the annual PrideFest rally and parade Saturday June 18, 2016.

“I’m so glad people are not afraid to come,” said Tanya Gustafson, 48, seated on a bench in the heart of the park. “I’ve been to Pride for years in San Diego and it’s different here — smaller, more conservative — but it’s nice and peaceful.”

Max Cox, 17, agreed, calling Pridefest a safe haven away from family or others who may not be accepting of the LGBT community.

“It allows me to be more open,” Cox said. “There’s lots of love in spite of what happened in Orlando. People are giving hugs, people are hugging strangers they don’t even know.”

Samantha Witt, 28, carried a sign reading, “Hugs were invented to let people know you love them without having to say anything.” Witt said she was donating 25 cents to Orlando for each hug she received. Just a few minutes after arriving, she had already tallied $3.25 worth of embraces and hoped to reach $50 by the end of the event.

Witt said she refused “to let fear stop (her) from coming to things like this,” but she admitted to keeping an eye out for any trouble.

“I’m on my toes looking for potential threats,” she said. “But I’m not going to jump at shadows.”

Lisa Sawyer, accompanied by her rainbow-painted Boston terrier, Valentine, said coming to the festivities gave her pause as well.

“I’m a little worried because it’s Idaho,” Sawyer said. “Gov. (Butch) Otter is an idiot for letting people carry guns without permits, and with the hate rhetoric going on in our politics it makes you worry. A lot of people here are ignorant, and I wish we could teach everyone that peace and love is better than hate and violence.

“But I realize if something is going to happen, it’s going to happen, and that’s no reason to stop your life.”

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