BOISE, Idaho — Pride Night at Winter Garden aGlow at The Idaho Botanical Garden, is billed as a family-friendly event that is put on by Boise Pride and features the Boise Gay Men's Chorus and Boise Women's Chorus, free holiday snacks, photos with memorable holiday characters and a variety of other festivities.
However, on social media, there's been a call from certain groups like the Idaho Liberty Dogs, that bill themselves as, "a grassroots group of citizens standing up for our constitutional rights and freedoms," to protest the event. Their followers have been calling the Garden and some comments on their Facebook page call for arming themselves and shaming any parent who brings their child to the event.
"Call the Idaho Botanical Garden and demand them to cancel Drag Santa for their family event," states the Facebook page. "We're asking all concerned residents, parents, grandparents and churches, to please show up December 18 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and stand up against the sexualization of children and for protecting their innocence. If people continue to be silent, the worst is yet to come."
Additionally, KTVB reached out to the Boise Chapter of The Proud Boys, a far-right, neo-fascist American male organization. A leader has recently plead guilty to seditious conspiracy in regards to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol in 2021. In an email to KTVB, the Boise Chapter said that they will also be attending the protest at the Garden and nine other chapters from Idaho, Utah, Oregon and Washington will be joining them.
"Drag shows are not the issue," stated the email. "Children at or in drag shows are the issue."
In response to the protest, there are other organizations that are stepping up to protest the protest. Kimra Luna, Co-founder of Idaho Abortion Rights said that the Idaho Liberty Dogs have done this at numerous events over the past few years.
"Our plan of action is to do whatever we can to keep those groups that want to cause disruption away from the event," Luna said. "We will be festive, other groups are joining us, and we'll have lights and wings, and we will be a wall to protect people from seeing the hateful protestors."
Luna plans on bringing coffee, hot chocolate and hot cider for people and said it will be about love and togetherness to show the LGBTQ+ community that they have true support in the Treasure Valley.
"I recognize that reproductive and abortion rights affect all groups," Luna said. "Being an activist isn't about just standing up for one thing, it's standing up for all marginalized people."
Luna added that they want to invite people to come down and stand with them.
The Idaho Botanical Garden Executive Director, Erin Anderson, told KTVB that the Garden is committed to making space for diverse voices and cultivating a culture that welcomes all people of the Treasure Valley.
"Boise Pride will provide the evening's events and programming, and the Garden will provide the space for the group to gather," wrote Anderson in an email. "Boise Pride has held similar events at the Garden in the past. We have been working with local authorities at the Boise Police Department, the City of Boise, and the local FBI office to monitor the ongoing situation."
Anderson also said, in a phone call, that the Garden will work with officials to make sure the event is safe for everyone who comes.
The Boise Police Department told KTVB that they cannot provide specifics about security plans but that they have been in touch with the Idaho Botanical Garden about the event.
KTVB also reached out to Sandra Barker, a public affairs specialist at the FBI.
"Although I can't comment on a specific event," Barker stated in an email, "The FBI respects the right of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights. Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity."
All of this may seem daunting for local members of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. Across the country there has been an increasing number of protests and violence towards Pride, drag shows and general events.
Just this year there have been armed protests against LGBTQ+ events in Ohio, San Antonio, Florida and many other states. GLAAD, an LGBTQ+ media advocacy group, states that there have been more than 120 attacks or threats made against drag performers and events in 2022.
Jeremy Woodson, the communications strategist at ACLU Idaho, said that regarding the Pride event at the Garden, this kind of protest and rhetoric is part of a nationwide trend. He added that groups like the Idaho Liberty Dogs are using intimidation tactics to silence and censor speech that they don't agree with.
Woodson also said that this event is about celebrating the holidays and bringing joy to people in the community, and that people can always reach out to the Idaho ACLU with any information or concerns. Additionally, he said that this is an attempt, in part, to erase the existence of LGBTQ+ people in the state and across the country.
"We have a lot of discussions about how representation matters," Woodson said, "but this event and situation is about visibility and people having the right to be their true self. I don't know how people can argue against it. At the end of the day, we belong, and we are here."
That's a statement that Geoffrey Parks, the chair of the Board at Boise Gay Chorus and Boise Women's Chorus, is reiterating. He said the choruses are so happy to be participating in the event and that their mission is to open hearts and minds through music.
"We think it's important to show the world that LGBTQ+ people are here, we love our families and the holidays."
Parks said that he's loathe to address the protest issue but that, he feels, the community is used to dealing with bullies and that, at some point, you let the derogatory comments roll off your back.
The choruses have a huge membership this year and Parks said he hopes that 60 to 70 singers will show up for the 30 minute performance. They are still figuring out the exact songs they'll sing, but Parks said it will be a mixture of religious music and traditional good old-fashioned carols. All-in-all, a number of pieces that span the holiday spectrum.
"There is a joy in singing for people and so much of it is listening to the other people and blending your voices together," Parks said "In a lot of ways that's a great metaphor for how we approach life. Blending our voices to make something beautiful."
Pride Night at Winter Garden aGlow is on Sunday, Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. People can buy tickets at The Idaho Botanical Garden website.
The Idaho Liberty Dogs did not respond to questions at the time of publication.
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