by Carissa Wolf
“I’ve spent 30 some years looking at the intolerance,” Stephanie Steele said as she gazed upward, taking in the vivid colors of the rainbow waving high above the city of Boise. “The day has finally come. Now the steps go forward.”
Cheers rang out as a rainbow striped flag rose higher and higher to take its inaugural flight above the City of Trees Friday afternoon. A longtime symbol of gay pride, the rainbow flag and its symbolic rising above City Hall came to mean much more for those who welcomed its flight with smiles and flowers.
The rainbow of color waving above Boise evoked hope. Many spoke of family and community as they gazed upward. And a celebration of equality sent the Pride Flag into the air.
“It says something from the city. It says that everyone is welcome,” said Dan DeLuca, who petitioned the city to raise the flag in commemoration of the weekend’s Pride Festival events.“It’s so perfect that it’s the color of the rainbow—with all the colors. It stands for gender equality. It stands for gay people. It stands for straight people. It’s the flag for anyone who has a gender and sexuality. And that’s all of us.”
The flag symbolized celebration for many. Six months ago, Boise became one of the first cities in Idaho to pass a citywide ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Residents in six Idaho cities also enjoy nondiscrimination protections but those rights end at the towns’ city limits.
Idahoans lobbied state lawmakers to add the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the Idaho Human Rights Act for the past seven years. They pushed, left Post-It notes on walls and desks in the State Capitol reminding legislators to “Add the Words,” and waited for their voices to be heard. Lawmakers never even granted the Human Rights Act amendment a hearing—leaving victims of discrimination without recourse or protection. But Boise listened.
“How awesome it is that we're standing here at this event with these loving, accepting people. And two blocks north is the example of intolerance and bigotry and codified discrimination. It’s quite the irony. And [Saturday] there will be a rally on the steps of that edifice [after] walking past this edifice of acceptance,” Steele said.
The move for cities to adopt protections state lawmakers refused to even consider signals progress for many of those fighting for human rights and civil liberties. The pride flag stood as a symbol of that progress and hope for equality yet to come.
“There’s this overwhelming, emotional, intense feeling that there’s hope for this state,” Steele said.
Former Boise Democratic State Sen. Nicole LeFavor spent her legislative career fighting for the addition of gender equality and sexual orientation to the Idaho Human Rights Act. She laid the first flower that became a heap of color at the base of the flag pole and turned to thank the Boise City Council.
“Thank you for making a difference in our lives and the lives of so many,” LeFavour said.
“The ‘thank you’ is to them. This has been a community effort from day one. It will continue to be a community effort until everyone is treated equally in our society,” Councilmember Maryanne Jordan said between hugs and thank yous and handshakes from a line of LBGT activists, allies and supporters.
Jordan said the flag symbolizes what Boise is and what many people already know.
“It tells the world that this is a great place to be. That Boise is an inclusive place that values people for what they contribute to our society and not what people perceive them to be.”
For others, the flag symbolized a lifetime of dreams.
“I never thought this day would come in Idaho. It gives me hope that we’re actually progressing. It is a small step but it’s huge,” said Boisean Melissa Rush. “This is a big day for our family. I think that if we can do this, someday we can get married here.”