For Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, running for public office wasn't a question of how, but when. Over the last decade, she has held positions in the Idaho Democratic Party and been involved with the LGBTA Democratic Caucus of Idaho. Additionally, Gaona-Lincoln is currently the chair of Add the Words Idaho. Running for office was "just a progressive next step," she said.
This November, Gaona-Lincoln will be on the ballot to represent Canyon County's District 10 in the Idaho House of Representatives, and while the campaign sometimes feels as if it's non-stop, she said there are a few public events where political campaigning takes a backseat to LGBTQIA+ advocacy and education—and Boise's annual Pridefest is at the top of that list.
"Typically, when I attend Pride, it's with an Add the Words hat on—an advocacy hat, an educator hat," she explained. "Constituency engagement comes from making sure folks know their rights in Idaho, and have knowledge of the resources they can access. It's always hard that it's not more political. The organizer in me always wants to get people rallied and make sure they're registered to vote and all those kinds of opportunities. But celebration is always the name of the game for [Pridefest]."
Coming Out and Giving Back
In 1989, Boise Pridefest began as a march to advocate for recognition of Boise's LGBTQIA+ community. Celebrating diverse sexual orientations and identities, while important, wasn't the first priority, according to Boise Pride board member Andrew Bunt. But today, at Pride festivals in Boise and across the country, the tides have turned. Simply put, celebration and education come first.
"We have our rally, which is our big call to action that yes, there is still work to be done," said Bunt. "But Pride is something bigger, better, and the community wants to be involved. They're seeing the positive impact Pridefest can have in Boise, so we're adding a lot of fun things this year to help that celebration. We've also taken a step back and asked ourselves, 'Is this just a celebration or can this be more about what we, as an organization, can do to give back?'"
Bunt said past events followed the same pattern: bingo nights, drag shows, more bingo, a bar hop and some dance parties. In thinking about 2018 Pride events, Bunt said his team was determined to incorporate the idea that the Boise community can put on one of the biggest festivals of the summer and still give something back to Boise as a whole.
"There's more to Pride than coming to a park and drinking beer," he said. "That's a fun part, but we can do more. We can do service projects and show the community we appreciate their acceptance and the progress they've made. The community's been very generous, and I think people are going to be very happy and surprised by what we have planned this year."
Bunt was tight-lipped about details on those service projects, but he did say that when it comes to serving the community, supporting different causes plays a significant role in Pridefest. Bunt made it clear that organizers don't endorse specific political candidates, but they do support causes, such as Add the Words. Additionally, Pridefest has a unique opportunity to educate festival-goers on human rights issues, and to engage in dialogue with other marginalized groups.
"We've won some battles, but there are still some other groups of people we can help. We can open that door and understand their needs better," Bunt said. "There's a perspective we can bring to the table. Yes, we support causes, and you will hear that at the rally."
Gaona-Lincoln said the biggest political shift that she has seen at Pridefest in the past few years has been among Boise's LGBTQIA+ youth and their allies.
"They feel safer being there, engaging with their friends, participating at events, and they take advantage of the opportunity of meeting other people in the queer community that they wouldn't necessarily get to meet otherwise," she said. "That's not something I had access to as a young person, so that sticks with me as a positive aspect of what Pridefest brings."
Boise Shows its Colors
Officials at Boise City Hall have already unfurled rainbow-colored banners, which now line the streets of the city's downtown core. Continuing the theme, one of the highlights of the 2018 edition of Boise Pridefest will come on the evening of Friday, June 15, when the Idaho Capitol will bathe in the rainbow colors of pride. But the process of getting those rainbow colors on the statehouse hasn't been as easy as flipping a switch.
In 2016, the Idaho Department of Administration said it didn't have the "technical capabilities" to light the Capitol in rainbow colors. Robert Geddes, director of the Department of Administration, said his department wasn't equipped to project all six colors on the Statehouse at one time. That prompted Pridefest organizers to get their own equipment, power generators and even security— to the tune of $9,000—to make the rainbow a reality.
Still, the annual question has remained: Will Pridefest be able to light the Statehouse with the colors of the rainbow again this year?
For 2018, the answer is yes, but Geddes said the rainbow lights will not be allowed next year due to the high volume of people applying to illuminate the exterior of the Capitol.
"We just have to start saying 'no' because we're so overwhelmed with those requests," Geddes said. "If we allow some, we have to allow all."
Festivities this year, however, will go beyond lighting up the Capitol. The June 15 event will also include fireworks and music from recording artist and LGBTQIA+ activist Steve Grand on a stage sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank.
"Boise Pride works really hard to make it all happen," said Gaona-Lincoln. "And really, it's always a bittersweet moment to be able to celebrate at Boise Pridefest. It's been a really positive change to have it in the heart of downtown Boise, across from the Capitol where decisions have been made. That's a metaphor and a significance we can reflect upon."
Gaona-Lincoln added that not everyone who attends the Boise event lives in a place where they're granted equal protection under the law. Boise is one of only 13 Idaho cities with nondiscriminination ordinances based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Living without those protections, said Gaona-Lincoln, makes it difficult to live, work and thrive in other parts of the state without some fear of discrimination in housing, employment and public accomodations.
"The party goes on, but there's still work to be done," she said.See related PDF