Local LGBTQ groups have long been on the fringes in Idaho’s largest city, and Idaho’s LGBTQ individuals often say their community, like those in other cities, is fractured into different camps.
But the board of Boise Pride Fest is finding its moment in the corporate world. Michael Dale, president of the Pride Fest board, and Andrew Bunt, the VP, took leadership of the organization last summer and set out to promote Boise Pride Fest as an organization that focuses on generosity, sustainability and social responsibility. Under Dale and Bunt, the leadership is steering sharply clear of politics. The group’s mission statement emphasizes that the LGBTQ community is part of the larger local community.
Both Dale, who works for Target, and Bunt, a Boise native who has worked in finance and supply chain management, have the heart of salesmen, not political activists. The two have secured support from corporations and local businesses that have never sponsored before. Bunt said Boise Pride Fest has $250,000 worth of in-kind and cash donations for the festival, $160,000 of that in cash, a jump up from the $80,000 secured for last year’s event.
Micron is a new sponsor, as are Albertsons, Zions Bank, Target, and Chobani, said Dale. Also new this year: Paylocity, Happy Family Organics, Holland & Hart, Tito’s and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Existing sponsors include Citi, T-Mobile, AT&T, Umpqua Bank, HP and Bacardi Brands. The Grove Hotel is acting as a partner, with special room rates for participants. Wells Fargo, which has sponsored Boise Pride Fest since its earliest days, is paying for about one-quarter of the festival this year and offering 250 volunteers. The city, which has contributed in the past, put up 50 Pride Fest rainbow banners downtown this year, a first-time contribution that cost $3,000.
Bunt and Dale expect about 50,000 people to attend the festival over the two days – up from 35,000 last year. They have sold tickets to some of their concert events to visitors from Portland and Seattle.
Pride’s organizers want to use any money raised by the Boise Pride Fest to spruce up the city’s gay community center on the Boise Bench, but they are steering clear of supporting other LGBTQ initiatives. They envision a time when Boise Pride Fest raises money for the Boise community at large, not just the LGBTQ community.
“This year, the LGBTQ community center; next year, a group that is not affiliated with LGBTQ at all, that is struggling, that we can go to and say, ‘Thank you for supporting us in the past or whatever. We want to give,’” Bunt said.
This apolitical, corporate-oriented approach has alienated some members of the area’s LGBTQ community. Boise Pride Fest has come in for sharp criticism on social media, and a group is holding an alternative Boise Pride Fest in Julia Davis Park. Bunt and Dale are not deterred.
“We can’t always be complaining about what we don’t have,” Bunt said. “Let’s celebrate what we do have — the victories we have won; that we can get married now. There’s more work to do. I get that, but let’s celebrate and help the other groups, like refugees.”
The organization needs money to pay for things like using the park and hiring security, Dale noted.
“People want a free Pride, but it doesn’t pay for itself,” he said. “Our stage alone costs almost $40,000. Corporate involvement allows us to do that.”
Meanwhile, Bunt and Dale are also facing exactly the same kind of quandary their corporate sponsors are working to overcome: a lack of diversity in the leadership. Boise Pride Fest’s board is made up of three gay men and one straight woman — along with one trans drag queen who is on a committee.
“We’re not diverse,” said Bunt. “We don’t have a lesbian at the table or a bi person or a trans person. Without them on the board, it’s hard for me to create an event or atmosphere for them.”
Bunt served as an LDS missionary in Venezuela and said his training with the church has come in handy as he energizes his large volunteer base. Apart from the helpers sent by corporate sponsors, Bunt also has 120 individual volunteers who are committed to working the two-day festival.
To encourage them to show up, he has put together a package with T-shirts and other swag, and he’ll house a few at the Grove Hotel after they work late into the night Saturday. He’s having sit-down meetings with all the volunteers to convey to them the Pride Fest’s mission and how to communicate it.
“Mormons teach you how to get people to commit to something,” he said. “If you tell people to do something but don’t give them a reason why or an incentive, they’re most likely not going to do it. I tell people, ‘You are valued; you are needed.’”
As for the criticism about forging such a close relationship with corporate sponsors, Bunt says he’d like the Pride Fest to be an opportunity for dissident members of the LGBTQ community to come together. The other large LGBTQ group in the area, Add the Words, is the campaign lobbying state lawmakers to update the Idaho Human Rights Act to include protection from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation for all, including gay and transgender people. That group’s organizer, Chelsea Gaona Lincoln, said Add the Words will participate in the Boise Pride Fest and at the alternative fest at Julia Davis Park.
“I have personally been a very vocal proponent of the need for Boise Pride to be focused on the LGBTQ community, not just because of my personal beliefs, but because I’ve been approached by so many other folks in the community as the chair of Add the Words,” Gaona Lincoln said. “They’re asking for someone to advocate a different vibe from Pride, which would include less corporate sponsorship and more of a focus on what Pride is actually about.”
But Gaona Lincoln said her group will work with both groups.
“There are so many layers to our community,” she said. “I don’t look at it as fractured. I look at it as continued progress and growth and development.”
Meanwhile, Boise Pride Fest, which has no paid staff now, is looking for a paid executive director, and Bunt and Dale are hoping the festival will help them find new board members who represent more aspects of the LGBTQ community.
“Pride is a festival, but it’s more than that; it’s time for us as a community to come together and share our differences,” Bunt said. “We get so nit-picky about our differences that we forget to share the things we have in common.”
Anne Wallace Allen is editor of the Idaho Business Review.