Historical events

3 historic events in Boise you might not know about – the Arbiter


Modern American LGBTQIA + history is often centered in coastal urban areas like New York and San Francisco. But every state and city has queer and transgender people, which means America is full of an untold LGBTQIA + story. Here are three historic queer and trans events that happened in Boise, Idaho that you may not be familiar with.

1. The ‘Boise Boys’ Scandal, 1955

During his 24 years at the Albertsons Library at Boise State, Alan Virta, who retired in 2011, created a historical LGBTQIA + archive as head of special collections and archives, and helped advise the creation of “The Fall of ’55”, a 2006 documentary film directed by Seth Randal about the scandal that rocked the Idaho capital.

Virta often points out that the 1950s were not the idyllic and peaceful post-war period as they are often described. Knowing the context of the Cold War at the time is useful according to Virta because homosexuality was seen as something that could lead to the ultimate evil at the time: communism.

So when a Boise police officer began investigating a few men who allegedly had sex with teenagers, the town erupted in October 1955. The “Idaho Statesman” posted near-daily updates on new allegations for several months, which quickly became allegations. against adult men for having consensual sex with other adult men, not adolescents.

“The basic theme I want people to remember is that the ‘Boys of Boise’ scandal began as an investigation of men for [allegedly] having sex with teenagers, but it kind of turned into an investigation of all gay men, as well as consenting adults, ”Virta said.

After police arrested three men on Halloween in 1955, dozens more were charged and a total of 16 men were prosecuted. It’s unclear how many people altogether were even investigated after the Boise Police Department hired a private investigator and John Gerassi’s 1966 book “The Boys of Boise” significantly exaggerated the number of allegations.

Yet Virta said that many Boiseans for decades have thought it best to leave the scandal alone.

“Boise was known for the ‘Boys of Boise’ and I think that was embarrassing,” Virta said. “And people didn’t want to talk about it. Plus, the whole situation broke families apart and caused Boise a lot of grief. “

But the scandal has left behind an enduring landmark that receives thousands of oblivious visitors each year – the 60-foot glowing cross atop Table Rock was placed there in 1957 to signal the city’s dedication to Christian purity. in response to the perceived impurity revealed by the scandal.

2. The “Forgotten Boise 7”, 1977

More than two decades after the “Boys of Boise” scandal another erupted, this time within the Boise Police Department.

In March 1977, a police sergeant claimed that seven of his colleagues, who were women, were lesbians. Only one of these women was an officer; the rest worked as dispatchers or in administrative roles.

The story of “Forgotten Boise 7” is being adapted into a documentary release scheduled for June 2021. In the movie trailer, one of the women who was fired from her job as dispatcher in the department, Sue Krohn, is telling her story for the first time.

“One of the sergeants decided to sue us because he had no real proof that we were lesbians, he decided we were,” Krohn said.

Krohn also mentioned that after losing faith in the police department, it became difficult to trust anyone.

“It was a horrible, horrible situation,” said Andrea Scott, executive producer of the documentary in the trailer who was 19 in Boise at the time. “These women were fired from the police service, they were embarrassed, they were vilified in the press by some people. Other people stepped in and were very supportive. “

History and gender studies professor Dr Lisa McClain said one of the groups that supported women and decried their dismissal was a group in Boise State called the Women’s Alliance. McClain also noted that while no one really knew whether the women were lesbians or not, this was not factored into the investigation.

“It was just something that was claimed,” McClain said. “The investigation does not appear [have been] very thorough, and eventually some of the women sued for things like back pay, attorney fees, things like that and the lawsuit was successful.

After being sacked, the seven women sued the city and won a $ 10 million settlement. Both Virta and the film’s trailer made it clear that women were unable to sue the city for discriminatory dismissal practices. They won the settlement because their phones had been illegally tapped for evidence, so the only punishment imposed was for wrongful investigation, and none of the women were ever reinstated.

Their dismissal also left only one employee of the department, who was forced to take a lie detector test and asked if she was a lesbian.

“At that time, there was no anti-discrimination law for homosexuals,” Virta said. “So the chief of police bluntly said, ‘we are firing these women because we suspect they are lesbians, and that is damaging the morale of the department.’ We have to get rid of it. And that was the reason for firing them.

There was not federal ban on discrimination in employment against LGBTQIA + people until this summer, with the Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County.

McClain contextualized “Forgotten Boise 7” as being right in the middle of second wave feminism and the push to get the equal rights amendment passed. At the time, McClain said, lesbians and other queer women were targeted by feminists like “The Feminine Mystique” writer Betty Friedan, who claimed lesbians endanger the feminist cause by making it too radical. and adding a plank to the feminist platform – the identity of lesbianism itself – that they thought mainstream America would not accept.

“These are women in a traditionally male profession,” McClain said. “So it’s about controlling gender in the police service in a very specific way. “

3. Boise’s First Pride, 1990

Over the past decades, support for the LGBTQIA + community has grown, particularly with regard to the right of gays and lesbians to marry. Summer Pride Parades draw thousands, sometimes millions, to sites of past protests like the Stonewall Inn in New York City and the Idaho Capitol Steps in Boise.

Photo courtesy of Idaho Statesman Collection, Boise State Archives

But Boise’s first pride celebration didn’t start with the gathering of 70,000 people who celebrated Pride in 2019.

Boise’s first pride celebrations were actually small picnics in Kathryn Albertson City Park in the late 1980s that weren’t announced. A Boise State employee was the first to call for a formal pride demonstration in June, which honors the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots.

This Boise State employee was called Brian Bergquist, whose surname Broncos might recognize as the Bergquist lounge name in the Student Union Building (SUB), which bears his name. Bergquist was a SUB administrator and wrote an article in the local Boise gay magazine when he titled it “Don’t Let The Parade Pass Us By” in 1989.

The following year, a few hundred Idahoans gathered on Capitol Hill for the first official Boise Pride Parade. Many wore masks or paper bags over their heads to protect their identity, which, as The Forgotten Boise 7 had shown, could lead to discrimination in employment. The first few years it was called the “Gay and Lesbian Freedom Parade” and some marketing campaigns for Boise Pride left some confusion as to whether the first parade took place in 1989, but Virta has said that according to all Historical Tales, the first real Pride Parade took place in 1990.

Idaho’s LGBTQIA + history encompasses much more than scandals or parades, but Boise and Idaho have always tended to resist discussing these stories, especially those filled with shame. But as Virta explains, there is a purpose in remembering and telling these stories and many more.

“For the sake of society at large, I think it’s good that we know that these things have happened,” Virta said. “If only as a reminder that things like this can happen again if you’re not careful.”


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