COEUR D’ALENE – North Idaho’s infamous resort town made national headlines last year after a white nationalist group planned to disrupt a local Pride event, but that didn’t keep the local LGBTQ+ community from celebrating this year.
Hundreds of organizers, city officials and LGBTQ+ allies gathered peacefully Saturday in downtown Coeur d’Alene at City Park to celebrate Pride month.
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North Idaho Pride Alliance director Sarah Lynch told the Idaho Capital Sun that the organization’s goal is to provide a space where people can celebrate authenticity and support the LGBTQ+ community.
The pride alliance began the event by inviting city officials to read a proclamation signed by Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond that designates June as Pride month.
“We have been sincerely honored by the outpouring of support from city leadership for the LGBTQIA+ community as we approach this year’s Pride in the Park,” Lynch said.
On the day of last year’s Pride in the Park, local law enforcement arrested 31 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front for misdemeanor conspiracy to riot charges after a 911 caller alerted the police to a group of men crowding inside in a U-Haul truck.
The 31 men came to North Idaho from at least a dozen states with several of them coming from Utah, Texas, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Idaho.
Lynch said that despite the presence of religious protesters, this year’s event felt more relaxed than last year.
“What last year showed me was that despite all the rhetoric and the fact that we were double booked with Spokane Pride, so many people showed up,” she said in an interview. “That showed me that this is a community that needs Pride and wants Pride. This community pulled together to reject the hate.”
Lynch said last year’s event was “transformative,” and since then the alliance has built relationships with public safety officials and local community members to tend to areas for growth and safety.
‘There’s a lot of resilience’: Vendors talk different atmosphere, LGBTQ+ experience
Community support grew from 50 vendors last year to nearly 70 vendors participating in this year’s event, Lynch said. Vendors included local businesses, LGBTQ+ advocacy nonprofits, health clinics and faith groups.
Boise-based LGBTQ+ advocacy groups also attended this year’s event, including Add the Words Idaho and the ACLU.
ACLU legislative strategist Amy Dundon told the Idaho Capital Sun that she was astounded by the thoughtfulness and creativity of the Pride event.
“There’s a lot of talk about the ways in which North Idaho is associated with a type of group, but I think what we’re seeing here today is a really peaceful, beautiful event with people who are showing up because they’re brave and because they know that despite certain groups being here, we’re not going to go back into hiding,” she said. “There’s a lot of resilience.”
Pride in the Park is the first of a series of events the pride alliance is hosting in June. Other events include a tie-dye party, a pizza fundraiser, an inclusive health care panel and fashion show event.
Mia Birmingham, the former North Idaho College Gender and Sexuality Alliance club president, told the Sun that this year’s pride was more peaceful than last year’s.
“The atmosphere compared to last year is astronomically better,” he said. “Last year there were people walking around with machine guns. This year, there are less protesters and more people attending.”
Birmingham said living in North Idaho as a member of the LGBTQ+ community can be a difficult experience, and he is seeing people in the community, including himself, wanting to leave the state out of fear and because of lack of acceptance. Birmingham compared the state’s LGBTQ+ community to an unhealthy relationship.
“To put it in simpler terms, when you’re in a toxic relationship with a person and you realize that they hurt you, you don’t want to stay,” he said. “You do your best, if possible, to get out. So that’s what we’re experiencing.”
Patriot Front arrests: Where do cases stand?
Court records show that all of the 31 men arrested posted bond on $300 the same weekend of their arrest.
Since then, five members of the Patriot Front group were issued arrest warrants, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The five members who were issued arrest warrants include:
- Jared M. Boyce, 28, of Utah
- Connor P. Moran, 24, of Texas
- James J. Johnson, 37, of Washington
- Graham J. Whitson, of Texas
- Derek J. Smith, 24, of South Dakota
Smith has the nearest upcoming date for jury trial scheduled for June 26.
Of the 31 men arrested, all but three people are scheduled for a jury trial including Boyce, Whitson and Moran who each failed to appear at their pre-trial conference or original jury trial date.
Boyce was issued a warrant after failing to appear via zoom for a pre-trial conference in December. Salt Lake City Fox 13 reported that he pleaded guilty in Utah to nine felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and remains incarcerated at the Utah County Jail.
A jury trial for Whitson has not yet been rescheduled after he failed to appear at his original jury trial in March. A warrant for his arrest was subsequently issued.
Moran also failed to appear for a pre-trial conference, and a warrant for his arrest was issued in February. He is scheduled for a hearing on June 30 to determine if the arrest warrant will remain in place.
Only one member has been sentenced for his involvement. Alexander Sisenstein, 27, of Utah, was the first of members to be sentenced in November. His original charge for conspiracy to riot was modified to misdemeanor disturbing the peace. In November, he was sentenced to a two-year unsupervised probation with one day credit for time served, according to the Spokesman-Review. Court records show he also had to pay a $500 fine.