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Multiple Boise Pride Festival sponsors withdraw participation after criticism from Idaho GOP

Boise Pride signs are displayed in front of Cecil D. Andrus Park in preparation for the Boise Pride Festival that runs Sept. 9 through Sept. 11 (Clark Corbin, Idaho Capital Sun)
Boise Pride signs are displayed in front of Cecil D. Andrus Park in preparation for the Boise Pride Festival that runs Sept. 9 through Sept. 11 (Clark Corbin, Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho Power, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Zions Bank pull support for downtown event

At least three companies or organizations sponsoring this weekend’s Boise Pride Festival have withdrawn their participation from the event as Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon called on supporters to contact the festival’s sponsors and remove their financial support of those sponsors.

Zions Bank, Idaho Power and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare were sponsors of Boise Pride Festival but withdrew their participation after Moon began issuing a series of statements condemning children’s participation in the event on Wednesday.

First held in 1989, Boise Pride Festival is an annual event and a celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. The event is scheduled to take place Friday through Sunday in downtown Boise. According to the event website, organizers “strive to promote unity and celebrate the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities engaging the Boise community year-round.”

In a statement, Idaho Power said it had concerns about safety at the event.

“Due to programming changes that occurred after our sponsorship and concerns for the safety of our employees and volunteers, we have withdrawn our participation in the Boise Pride event,” Idaho Power spokesman Brad Bowlin said in a written statement issued Thursday. “We will continue to support our diverse communities.”

The Idaho Capital Sun has requested additional information about programming changes and safety concerns from Bowlin.

Boise Pride Festival organizers could not be reached for comment Thursday.

How are law enforcement officials preparing for Boise Pride Festival?

The Ada County Sheriff’s Office has not received any specific threats related to the event but has been inundated with more than 100 emails, phone calls and direct messages from people who oppose the Pride event, according to a spokesperson.

However, the event is in the city of Boise, which is the Boise Police Department’s jurisdiction.

Idaho State Police troopers will be assigned to the Idaho Capitol, across the street from the park. ISP works closely with Boise police when events are nearby, an ISP spokesperson said.

Haley Williams, a spokesperson for the Boise Police Department, said the agency “works to provide safety for everyone in downtown Boise. As with any special event, we work with event organizers to create security plans and carefully assess concerns.”

The department will have officers stationed at the festival who “are prepared to respond to any potential problems” if necessary. Williams added, “We appreciate our partnership with our community and must ask that if you see something, say something.”

Williams said the security plans “are not available for public release.”

Idaho Republican Party lists phone numbers of Boise Pride Festival sponsors in statements

Moon issued three public statements regarding Boise Pride Festival between Wednesday and Thursday. In one of Thursday’s statements, Moon listed the phone numbers of 20 companies or organizations sponsoring Boise Pride Festival. Moon called on Idahoans to call the companies, express their disappointment in sponsoring the festival and then to stop financially supporting the sponsors. Moon also put out a call for community organizations and religious groups to organize peaceful counter protests at Boise Pride Festival.

The far-right group Idaho Liberty Dogs is promoting on its social media channels Boise Pride Festival counter protests scheduled for Friday and Sunday in downtown Boise.

Moon and far-right opponents of Boise Pride Festival oppose two events planned for Sunday — drag story time and a drag show featuring kids who had parental permission to perform. Without providing specifics or evidence, Moon alleged the festival promotes the sexualization of children.

“The sponsors of Boise Pride Fest include many publicly-funded institutions, including public universities and health care organizations,” Moon wrote in a statement to supporters Thursday. “As if these institutions used taxpayer monies to sponsor or promote this event.”

In a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday, Boise Pride Festival organizers said they postponed the kids drag event due to safety concerns.

“The health and well-being of the kids, their parents and the attendees of the festival is our priority,” Boise Pride Festival Organizers said.

In an earlier statement issued Wednesday, Boise Pride Festival Organizers said the drag kids event “is a celebration of self expression and confidence.”

“The kids performing have the enthusiastic support of their parents,” the statement read, in part. “Often when younger people come out, they struggle with their identity, self-acceptance and self-expression. Dressing in costume and performing builds that confidence, encourages individuality and ultimately is empowering.”

In a letter to Boise Pride Organizers, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said the department was withdrawing its sponsorship and pulling out support from Project Filter and Idaho HIV and STD and Hepatitis Prevention and Care Program.

Jeppesen cited “some confusion about whether (Idaho Department of Health and Welfare) endorses specific event activities involving minors during this event,” saying the department’s decision was to “avoid any confusion regarding (its) support of such activities …”

A spokesperson for the department could not immediately answer questions from the Sun on whether Jeppesen had read the Pride organizers’ clarifying statements or reached out to the organizers before withdrawing the department’s support.

“The director’s memo to the event director this afternoon was sent before knowing the organizers pulled this activity from the event lineup,” said spokesperson Greg Stahl. “DHW is evaluating the situation based on this new information.”

Idaho business lobbyist criticizes Moon’s support for a convicted rapist 

As Moon repeated her calls to boycott and oppose the event, Alex LaBeau, the president of one of the state’s largest business lobbying groups, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, pointed out that Moon voiced support for convicted rapist and former Idaho legislator Aaron von Ehlinger, and has yet to condemn her former Republican colleague for raping a teenage legislative intern.

LaBeau said Moon does not have the “moral compass” to make a statement about sexualizing children after she supported von Ehlinger.

“For Dorothy (Moon) to come out and have any sort of say in this — obviously this is coming from a woman who blamed a rape victim and said it’s OK for legislators to sleep with a teenage intern,” LaBeau told the Sun.

During an April 28 meeting of the House Ethics and Policy Committee in 2021, Moon was asked whether she thought it would be appropriate for an elected representative to have a sexual relationship with an unpaid 19-year-old intern.

“I am saying if you are a consenting adult, and they are both consenting adults, I guess it’s nobody’s business,” Moon said at the time.

The victim in the von Ehlinger case, who the Sun refers to as Jane Doe because it does not identify victims of sexual assault or rape, testified repeatedly that she did not consent to sexual contact with von Ehlinger.

IACI is one of the largest business lobbying groups in Idaho and represents more than 300 employers, including some sponsors of Boise Pride Festival.

LaBeau said he wished that there was more information shared proactively about some of the events scheduled to take place during Boise Pride Festival. LaBeau said the drag kids event is designed for youth who are struggling with their identities and want a safe place to express their identity. LaBeau said each of the participants has the support of their parents, and the overall event is designed to provide a safe space and reduce teen suicide rates.

“I would like to see everybody take a deep breath, perhaps, for Dorothy (Moon) to go over and have a conversation with the Pride people and talk about what the event is to reduce the hate,” LaBeau said. “That is the very thing that all Idaho companies and all of our members want to do is be a welcoming state. But to sit there and fan the flames in the way that she is is not acceptable, and I challenge her to go have that conversation.”

Gov. Brad Little did not respond to numerous requests for comment from the Sun on Thursday.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.