BOISE, Idaho — When Joseph Kibbe attended the first Boise Pride Festival in 1989, he and about two dozen other attendees wore paper bags over their heads to hide their faces from potentially violent onlookers.
In the festival’s first parade two years later, Kibbe and his friends were greeted by protesters with nooses outside the Statehouse.
“Boise was a very different place back then – it wasn’t a safe time to be LGBTQIA,” he said.
Yet for Kibbe — then a junior high student who was frequently beaten at school, now deputy director of the Boise Pride Festival board — the event was the only place he felt like a part of. a community.
“I could come and be who I wanted to be here, who I really was,” Kibbe said on Friday, just hours before the start of this year’s festival. “It was a huge morale booster, and that’s why I’m so passionate about what we’re doing today.”
But this year, a roughly half-hour show on the three-day festival program called “Drag Kids” sparked a wave of political pressure and anonymous threats.
Festival organizers dreamed up a short performance where kids could don sparkly dresses and lip-synch to songs like Kelly Clarkson’s “People Like Us” on stage. But others, including Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon, expected a grim scene where children would “engage in sex shows with adult entertainers.”
The event drew national attention from far-right websites and podcasts, and on Tuesday organizers realized it was not the “normal” amount of opposition, the festival president said, Michael Dale.
“The sexualization of children is wrong, period,” the Idaho GOP wrote on Twitter. “Idaho rejects the imposition of adult sexuality and adult sexual appetites on children.”
Moon and the Idaho GOP sent out statements asking voters to ask festival sponsors to withdraw their support. A few have done so, at least in part – removing their logos from festival fences and canceling booth plans. The Idaho Department of Health and Wellness announced it was withdrawing $38,000 in funding and resources focused on smoking cessation and HIV/AIDS prevention.
A conservative pastor in California has started rallying like-minded congregations, asking members to tell the Ada County Sheriff to arrest any festival organizer who “contributes to juvenile delinquency.” A group known for its armed protests asked its supporters to come forward on Sunday.
Others, however, rallied in support of Boise Pride. Four Democratic state lawmakers pledged their own financial support and issued a joint statement criticizing what they called “the false and dangerous claims by Idaho GOP Chairwoman Dorothy Moon that stoke violence.” New business sponsors have come forward to fill vacancies.
But the political maelstrom grew more intense by the hour, and five children were stuck in the middle. Riley Burrows, a full-time drag performer from Boise who was co-producing the Drag Kids event, began receiving death threats on social media.
“It’s, ‘We’re going to show up at this festival,’ ‘We’re chasing you,’ ‘I hope you know you’ve got a target behind your back,’ and ‘You’re going to be found in a tree,'” said Burrows “It got so repetitive.”
On Thursday afternoon, festival organizers decided to postpone the children’s show.
“We wanted to ask these kids first and foremost because it affects them, their confidence and their lives. And they still wanted to do it,” Dale said, fighting back tears. “But it has become a matter of health, well-being and that of the festival-goers.”
Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has increased in Idaho and the United States in recent months, and earlier this year 31 members of a white supremacist group were arrested outside a Northern Pride event. ‘Idaho for allegedly planning a riot. Boise Pride organizers have been working with Boise police to bolster security since arrests in northern Idaho in June.
None of the five young performers are new to drag shows. The youngest is 10 and was inspired watching her mother prepare to play.
“She really wanted to copy me and just do the makeup and have fun with it,” said Harley Innocent, who goes by her stage name. Innocent is one of many cisgender women who participate in drag, sometimes referred to as “AFAB” or “Assigned Female At Birth Queens”.
Her daughter’s first performance was in 2019, in the rural town of Emmett, Idaho. She loved it, says Innocent.
“She was really looking forward to being able to do it on the main stage of Pride – it was a great opportunity for her to share her talent.”
Innocent says her daughter wears makeup like a “porcelain doll”, wears a wig and chooses a song to match her mood.
It looks like a glitzy pageant, Innocent said, but more laid back. “In drag, you don’t have to be perfect. We just try to have fun and embrace them in this art form.
Burrows, the co-producer of Drag Kids, said the kids had fun on stage in cute outfits.
“It’s like sending your child to dance school and the theme of the show is rainbows – big tutus, bows and fun hair.”
It’s different from an adult drag show, which can have heavier themes, more revealing costumes and cater to a more mature audience, Burrows said: “It’s like the difference between a children’s television and an adult television program.”
Youth performances can give kids a sense of belonging, he said, adding that “it’s not scary to be gay when you’re surrounded by love and acceptance.”
There’s a lot more support available for LGBTQ kids today, Kibbe said, but it was still heartbreaking to tell them the event was postponed until organizers can find a safer and more favorable.
“The actions of any small minority group don’t reflect what the majority of people feel, but we haven’t figured out how to balance that out yet,” Kibbe said. “The kids that were going to be on that show, they were literally trying to let other people know, ‘Hey, it’s okay, this is what a supportive parent looks like, this is what a friend looks like. “”