Q&A: North Idaho Pride Alliance director Sarah Lynch reflects on progress made and lost for the region's LGBTQ+ community

click to enlarge Q&A: North Idaho Pride Alliance director Sarah Lynch reflects on progress made and lost for the region's LGBTQ+ community
North Idaho Pride Alliance Executive Director Sarah Lynch |courtesy photo

Following a 20-year career as an Air Force pilot, Sarah Lynch retired, moved to North Idaho for "the pretty girl" (her wife) and began spending her free time volunteering with the North Idaho Pride Alliance (NIPA).

After volunteering for Coeur d'Alene's Pride in the Park, in 2022 she took on a board position leading NIPA's safety committee, a perfect fit because of her military service and a doctoral degree in public safety. This experience immediately proved necessary when a group of masked white nationalists with the hate group Patriot Front tried to disrupt the city's Pride festivities.

After that, NIPA leaders reflected on how they'd like to operate in the community, ultimately deciding to hire a part-time executive director. Lynch stepped away from her board position to apply. Today, she's been working as NIPA's executive director for just over a year.

The Inlander sat down with Lynch in the busy week before Coeur d'Alene's Pride in the Park (June 1) to talk about what it means to operate an LGBTQ+ organization in North Idaho, how NIPA is getting involved with the legislative session and where heightened anti-queer rhetoric in the region is coming from. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

INLANDER: How might you characterize North Idaho's LGBTQ+ community and NIPA's role within that?

LYNCH: The LGBT community here shows a lot of strength and resilience in the face of fear and bullying. It sometimes feels like an uphill battle, but I've really been impressed with the LGBT community here.

Following 2022 [when 31 white nationalists were arrested for plotting a riot during Pride in the Park], we had a reflection period of 'How do we want to be in this community?' We showed a lot of resilience and bounced back to say, 'OK, we're going to learn from this because the community needs us.' But then at the same time, you know, there is the fear, and there is the bullying, and hateful rhetoric. That does cause a little bit of a chilling effect, and I think that it's tough for LGBT folks here to connect.

Is there a specific reason why we seem to be going backwards?

My wife shared a quote recently that said 'Visibility is more often a precursor to increased backlash than it is to progress.' There were all these really wonderful steps for the LGBTQ+ community during the Obama administration, so then queer folks became more visible. And I think in some ways that led to backlash, unfortunately.

We've seen a lot of legislation affecting the LGBTQ+ community come forward in Idaho in recent years. What work has NIPA been doing to advocate for the community in the Legislature?

We've been learning a lot from the ACLU of Idaho. That's been part of the educational events we've had over the last couple of years to understand how the legislative system works. We're trying to understand that, and what it really comes down to is being quick enough to respond and finding real people that these [bills] are affecting, so we can uplift their voices and give them a chance to speak their piece. A lot of times this legislation is introduced toward the LGBT community without any consideration as to how it could impact everybody else.

It almost seems like some of this anti-queer rhetoric might be coming from a place of ignorance, rather than hate, especially in the more rural communities of North Idaho.

Yep, 100%. You obviously have either end of that spectrum, but there's this middle section that just doesn't know or they're apathetic or just privileged and thinking it doesn't have anything to do with them, so there's no reason to learn.

I hear time and time again from older folks who come to me at our various events, and they say, 'I have a LGBT kid, and they moved away when they grew up, and they won't come home, even for the holidays to visit, because they don't feel safe here.' That just breaks my heart, and I think that's a valid reason to try and educate yourself. There's an expectation from allies that NIPA should do all these programs to educate everybody about this. And I think the reality is we just don't have the bandwidth and the capacity to teach the entire Panhandle of North Idaho.

Do you see a turning point in the near future?

Honestly, I think we've seen some amazing movements in the last week or so, like with the trial that occurred last week with the drag performer [Eric Posey] who was defamed by the blogger [Summer Bushnell]. I'm still shocked a little bit, but in North Idaho the jury was unanimous that that is defamation and that she should pay him for the damages and be punished. That's a big statement that a unanimous verdict from a jury of 12 [North Idahoans] made that decision. ♦

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Colton Rasanen

Colton Rasanen is a staff writer for the Inlander covering education, LGBTQ+ affairs, and most recently, arts and culture. He joined the staff in 2023 after working as the managing editor of the Wahpeton Daily News and News Monitor in rural North Dakota.