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‘We exist’: Canyon County’s inaugural Pride Festival event draws thousands of people

In World
June 10, 2024

Tom Wheeler stood on stage Sunday afternoon with glitter on his cheeks and a crowd of rainbow-decked thousands before him at Canyon County’s first Pride festival.

“I want everyone to take a look around and think to yourself, ‘You belong in Canyon County,’” he told those gathered at Lakeview Park in Nampa.

When Wheeler and fellow advocate Van Knapp first came up with the idea, they at imagined a “queer picnic” with perhaps 50 people, according to Knapp.

What she didn’t expect was the than 4,000 people who turned out for the event. A May 28 statement released by Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling saying the event “does not reflect the personal beliefs and convictions of myself, Nampa City Council and many living in Nampa” increased the event’s publicity and some residents’ motivation to attend. About 20 protesters stood outside the festival, holding signs and trying to engage with those entering the event.

“The mayor saying this is not what our city is hurts,” said Nampa resident and attendee Sarah Thorn, 32. “So we’re here to just say, ‘Hey, we are here. You can’t ignore us.’”

People attending the first Canyon Canyon Pride Festival cheer a musical act on stage.

People attending the first Canyon Canyon Pride Festival cheer a musical act on stage.

Wheeler told the Idaho Statesman on Sunday that recent legislation, his role as co-founder of Idaho’s LGBTQ Real Estate Alliance and his volunteer work with young LGBTQ people made him realize the need for such an event.

“It’s an opportunity to stand up, stand together, know your rights and get civically involved, because if we want to see a change, we’re gonna have to come together and do that as a community,” Wheeler said.

Sunday’s festival included food trucks, live music, nearly 40 local vendors and informational booths offering community resources. Many in attendance dressed in colorful clothing and waved rainbow flags.

“There hasn’t been this visibility,” said Cori Crawford, 21, who grew up in Caldwell. “This is the first time that I’ve ever been in Canyon County and fully felt like I could be myself.”

Lifelong Caldwell resident and Boise Gay Men’s Chorus member Colin Howard, 42, said that had this type of experience been around when he was young, he may have been able to “come to terms with (his) sexuality” earlier.

“People that identify as LGBTQ have always been here but just didn’t feel empowered enough to have an event like this,” Howard said. “I know I felt like that for a long time. I feel like what’s changed is acceptance.”

Nova Valenezuela, 20, said coming to Canyon County from her home in Boise has often felt “nerve-racking” and “kind of scary” as a member of the LGBTQ community.

“But being here right now, it’s the safest I’ve ever felt,” Valenezuela said at the festival.

The first Canyon Canyon Pride Festival attracted thousands of people attending the event at Lakeview Park in Nampa.

The first Canyon Canyon Pride Festival attracted thousands of people attending the event at Lakeview Park in Nampa.

Luca Kennedy, 20, said growing up in Nampa has often been “tense” as a person who identifies as “agender and gay.” Kennedy, whose mother’s rainbow lawn flag was vandalized on more than one occasion, said the event put into perspective how many locals are part of the LGBTQ community.

“Especially here in Nampa, it’s hard to find other gay people because so much of it is like white supremacist cowboy,” Kennedy said. “And so it’s really nice to have this big festival in this park that I live close to where my friends go to all the time. I now know that places like this exist here for us.”

Mindy OldenKamp said creating spaces where people feel safe and accepted is essential. It’s part of the reason she became director of Clutch, a nonprofit that “provides a safe space where LGBTQ youth can feel free to be themselves,” according to its website.

“I don’t mean to be dramatic, but it is a literal life and death thing,” OldenKamp said from her event booth. “Just showing up and giving that positivity, we don’t have any idea even how far those ripples really go.”

Christina Snyder paints glitter rainbows on the forehead of Hailey Colegrave at the first Canyon Canyon Pride Festival.

Christina Snyder paints glitter rainbows on the forehead of Hailey Colegrave at the first Canyon Canyon Pride Festival.

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