BOISE — Three major sponsors of the Boise Pride Festival pulled out on Thursday after Idaho Republican Party Chair Dorothy Moon issued repeated statements charging the sponsors of the event with encouraging the “sexualization” of children.
Shortly afterward, the Boise Pride Festival announced late Thursday afternoon that it was removing a planned “Drag Kids” performance from the festival’s lineup this weekend, and will instead postpone that performance to occur at a later date.
That was the performance Moon and other critics targeted. The festival organizers said they made the change “due to increased safety concerns.”
Moon sent out four press releases in two days on the matter, two of them headed, “Concerned Citizens of Idaho: A Call to Action,” listing names and phone numbers for businesses sponsoring the gay pride festival, which lists more than 80 sponsors. The near-annual event has been held in Boise for more than 30 years.
The three major sponsors who withdrew were Zions Bank, Idaho Power and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, in a statement late Thursday afternoon, said, “I appreciate the actions the Boise Pride Festival is taking to protect everyone who will join in their celebration this weekend. I applaud their continued focus on providing a positive, inclusive, community-based event where our LGBTQIA+ friends, neighbors, and family members can come together in celebration and community.”
She said, “The inflammatory rhetoric of the past few days has put a spotlight on the critical need for our community to have a conversation about standing together in times like these to encourage, embrace, and support the diversity and dignity of all people. I hope to see many of you at the festival this weekend.”
How did it all unfold?
The Daily Caller, a right-wing news and opinion website, published a story on Tuesday calling attention to Boise Pride Fest and its planned events, including the “Drag Kids” performance, which was to feature a handful of 11- to 18-year-olds, some with parents, performing in costume; and a “Drag Story Time” event.
“I applaud the organizers, who have planned a weekend full of positive, inclusive events for all ages,” said McLean. “We must show our kids and teens that they have a home here, that we welcome them, accept, and support them for who they are, as they are.”
Following that, the first press release from the GOP was issued on Wednesday, Sept. 7. In it, Moon called McLean a radical and called for businesses to pull sponsorship from the festival and to instead give money to the Boise Rescue Mission.
“Out-of-state companies promise to bring investment and jobs to Idaho,” Moon said in the statement. “Instead, they are financing the sexualization of our children and the perverse idea that children should engage in sexual performances with adult entertainers.”
In response, Zions Bank ended up pulling its sponsorship and issued a statement on Wednesday that said the bank had supported the festival for many years but it was unaware that there were event activities that involved children.
“Since learning of these specific activities, we have made the decision to withdraw our participation in this year’s Boise Pride event and have communicated this with organizers,” read the statement. Zions Bank said it continued to support LGBTQ+ employees and communities.
The two events highlighted in the Daily Caller story were scheduled for Sunday at Pride. Drag Story Time is not a new event at the Boise Pride Festival, although it appears that the “Drag Kids” performance is.
On Wednesday Boise Pride issued a statement in response to Moon, stating that the kids’ performance is a celebration of “self-expression and confidence,” and that the only “perversion and sexualization of this performance are coming from extremists and people like Dorothy Moon, who are twisting it into something it is not.”
“Drag is a powerful form of creative expression and offers a community to youth who are looking to feel accepted and loved, things they often don’t experience at home or at school,” read the statement. “Seeing others like you on stage offers a beacon of visibility and hope for LGBTQ+ youth, and that is one of the reasons Boise Pride exists and why we celebrate Pride.”
On Thursday, the GOP issued three more press releases regarding the event. The first was sent around 11 a.m. and criticized news coverage of the matter, saying that Idaho’s legacy media was “carrying water for the radical left.”
The second release of the day was issued directly from the Idaho Republican Party and came out on Thursday around 12:30 p.m. It listed a long list of donors and sponsors of the Boise Pride Festival and issued a call for people to “oppose taxpayer funded events that sexualize children, particularly when they are held on 9/11.”
The press release ended telling people to be civil when contacting the businesses and that they “ask whether they were aware that their sponsorship included events promoting the sexualization of children.”
Later in the day on Thursday, around 3 p.m., Idaho Power also confirmed that they were pulling sponsorship of the festival.
“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,” wrote Idaho Power Communications Specialist Brad Bowlin. “We will continue to support our diverse communities.”
Just after 4 p.m., the Idaho GOP re-sent the same “Call to Action” press release.
Around the same time, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare also decided to pull its sponsorships, including support from Project Filter and the Idaho HIV, STD and Hepatitis Prevention and Care Program. In a letter to the director of the Boise Pride Festival, Dave Jeppesen, IDHW director, said the sponsorship of Boise Pride 2022 has led to confusion in regards to if DHW endorses activities involving minors.
“DHW is withdrawing both of its Orange Level sponsorships and Project Filter will no longer be supporting a booth at the event this weekend,” Jeppesen wrote.
However, that letter “was sent before knowing the organizers pulled this activity from the event lineup,” Health and Welfare spokesman Greg Stahl said by email Thursday evening. “DHW is evaluating the situation based on this new information.”
While the news of the decision was celebrated on Twitter by supporters of Moon’s call for sponsors to withdraw from the festival, including Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, others decried the department’s decision. Said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, “I hope that the Department of Health and Welfare is remembering to put their mission first, in terms of getting critical and accurate health information regarding HIV to the public. And it’s unfortunate if they would desert that mission in the face of partisan pressure from the Republican Party.”
Neither Moon nor Boise Pride Festival officials had responded to questions from the Boise Weekly at press time.