Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Pride Grows in the Garden
Jason Vontver, who played with Dr. Tom Archie’s Doghaus at the event, sported a rainbow bowtie while Barbara Mead dressed to the nines.
Sunday, June 20, 2021


The lavender plants that currently dominate the Sawtooth Botanical Garden were infused with a rainbow of colors this week as the garden hosted the Wood River Valley’s inaugural Pride in the Garden.

Barb Mead was among those who showed up in an array of colors from her inch-long rainbow-colored eyelashes to her rainbow-colored locks. And members of a drag troupe added their own sequined pizzazz as they performed boisterous renditions of Aretha Franklin’s “Freedom” and other songs.

“When you’re tucked away in a small community like this, you don’t see Pride flags like you do in big cities,” said teenager Luke Lincoln. “So, something like this helps me feel as if I’m part of the community. It makes me feel: We’re seen. We’re heard.”

Kay Angell and Luke Lincoln offered guests a conversation starter with their spin-the-wheel game.

Pride celebrations are held throughout the country, often in conjunction with a colorful gay parade, to celebrate the growing acceptance of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. The Sawtooth Botanical Garden’s executive director Jen Smith and Sharon Heitur decided it was high time the Wood River Valley had its own Pride event and penciled it in on a white board of suggestions for the garden to pursue in 2018.

They revived it this year as the valley began emerging from the pandemic. And the board said, “Hell, yeah!” said Smith.

Pride events started in 1970 following the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village where the gay community protested a police raid targeting gay people.

“To my knowledge, this is the first Pride event in the Wood River Valley,” added Smith who, along with her partner Heather Johns, was the first in the valley to marry following the legalization of same-sex marriage. “We wanted people, especially the kids involved in local youth pride organizations, to know that there is support in this community.”

The evening featured some flamboyant entertainment by Dolce Vita and others.

A number of youth involved in local youth Pride groups helped organize the event.

Luke Lincoln and Kay Angell invited partygoers to spin a wheel, answering any one of an array of questions, such as “How did you adjust to someone coming out?” “What does Pride month mean to you?”  “How has coming out impacted you?” and “What plant do you think has queer vibes?”

“I think maybe the aspen tree because it changes colors a lot,” said Angell.

Eduardo Emmanuel Ballesteros and Jesse James Rice, who have been leading yoga classes at the garden this summer, led partygoers in a guided meditation.

R.L. Rowsey and six friends ponied up $700 for a platter of rainbow-colored Jell-O shots to be used for a second annual Pride in the Garden.

Ballesteros told how he came out fifteen years ago when he was 16 but it wasn’t until a woman looked him in the eyes and asked, “Do you know who you are?” that he became at peace with his identity. The woman shared how she’d been working with his people—the rainbow people—in the New Mexican desert before he was born and told him of the prophecy of the rainbow warrior or children.

“Earth knew there would be a time of darkness so she prepared her children to spread light through the rainbow,” Ballesteros said. “I am very happy to be a rainbow warrior.”

Rice added that a lot of those in the audience might not see themselves in the spectrum of the rainbow but they are.

“This special day has given us the permission to be ourselves and share our full colors, shadows and light,” said Rice. “The more you show up and be you, the more we can show up and be us. Show all your colors, all your shadows, all your light, all your rainbows.”

These youngsters, involved in local youth Pride groups, remarked that they often feel isolated. “It’s nice there’s so many people here,” said one. “When I see such a huge amount of support, It’s really cool.”

A sell-out crowd of 120 people that included gay, straight and everything in between attended the event, which featured a pulled pork sandwich buffet, cupcakes frosted in the colors of the rainbow and  wine, beer and juices for the teenagers.

The evening’s entertainment was loud and fun, with a hefty drag performer electrifying the crowd by turning a cartwheel across the stage of the gazebo and sliding into the splits before singing “I’m beautiful…’cuz God makes no mistakes…”

And the promise of a second annual Pride in the Garden got off to a good start with the auctioning off of three different platters of Jell-O shots for prices ranging from $250 to $700.

Several people said the most meaningful part of the evening were speeches by two members of the community that moved some to tears.

Carter Hedberg, director of philanthropy at The Community Library, noted that one of the SBG board  had been reluctant to hire him as director of the garden years ago because he couldn’t see a gay person finding community in the Wood River Valley. That man later recognized he was wrong and became a good friend, Hedberg said. And the community has welcomed him and his partner of 40 years—ordained priest Wayne Schmidt—“with arms wide open.”

Hedberg reminded the audience that we are taught growing up to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. And he held up a graphic novel “Flamer,” about a young boy who is coming to grips with his gayness.

“We learned at school how bad homosexuality is. It’s a sin. Gay people do bad things and I’m not a bad person so I couldn’t be gay,” he read from the young-adult novel. “That’s how some of us grew up, feeling that. But we’re not bad. We’re fabulous!”

Having a Pride event, he added, was “not a small step but a giant leap. “To have institutional support in this valley, it’s tremendous.”

R.L. Rowsey, one of the most visible members of the Wood River Community due to his many roles with Caritas Chorale, St. Thomas Playhouse, the Sun Valley Music Festival, Company of Fools and high school choir groups, recounted how discovering that he was gay was tricky in a Southern Baptist community where his minister told him he was likely going to hell because he loved square dancing.

He found a family that embraced him in the musical theater community and then found that community had grown ever so greatly when his husband john Glenn died unexpectedly following surgery.

“Out of nowhere my lover, soulmate and partner in crime was no longer with us,” he said. “But this community created a tidal wave of love that became a chair when I needed to sit down and a bed when I needed to lie down. This community became a river that washed over me….The process of love was not perfect, but it was pretty damn close.”

“This I know: You are love and that love is, was and always will be perfect.”

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