UPDATE: Close to 3,000 people flooded downtown Starkville on Saturday, March 24, for the first LGBTQ Pride parade in the city’s history. After grabbing national attention, the grassroots group Starkville Pride was allowed to move forward with its parade despite initially being voted down by the city’s Board of Aldermen in late February. The group took legal action following the city’s decision to deny the event request, and after a tense few weeks, Mayor Lynn Spruill served as the tie-breaking vote to approve the event request. starkvilledailynews.com/content/starkville-pride-event-largest-parade-city-history
UPDATE: Since the Starkville Board of Aldermen voted to deny a permit for a Pride parade a few weeks ago, HRC has worked with elected officials and community leaders to help force a re-vote on the decision, leading to the March 6 vote to issue the permit. HRC will continue to work alongside Starkville Pride to ensure the event is successful on March 24. HRC is also grateful to Roberta Kaplan for filing a lawsuit against the City of Starkville, further pushing the Board to reconsider its vote.
The Starkville Board of Aldermen of Mississippi voted against the request to hold an LGBT pride parade after hearing 16 people speak in favor of the event during its meeting Tuesday night. The board approved the motion to deny the request with a 4–3 vote.
The grassroots group Starkville Pride applied for a special event request to host the 2018 Pride Parade and have city participation with in-kind services. The item was previously on the consent agenda but was pulled off at the beginning of the meeting. There was no action taken during executive session.
The people who spoke in favor of having the pride parade were made up of Mississippi State University students, Starkville business owners, MSU officials, and other citizens.
Organizer of Starkville Pride and the Pride Parade, Bailey McDaniel, began the citizen comments asking the aldermen to please approve the parade because it is an event promoting inclusion and celebration.
Resident Kevin Williams said that many years ago African-American people would be denied the same type of request. He said this was an opportunity for the city to be on the right side of history with their vote to approve the services for the parade.
Business owner Rosa Dalomba said the removal of the item from the consent agenda troubles her because she continually defends Mississippi to people who live outside of the state. She said she knows Starkville is a community that is growing and becoming more diverse.
“This shocks me that we’re having this conversation in 2018,” Dalomba said.
The two people who spoke against having the parade were resident Dorothy Isaac and pastor Thomas Rogers of Josey Creek Missionary Baptist Church. Isaac said she was against the parade because “God created Adam and Eve.”
“Do not turn our city into a sin city,” Isaac said. “It should not be this.”
After Perkins made the motion, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker asked if the application for the event was correctly filed.
City officials said the Board of Aldermen had not denied a request for any applications that were filed correctly since 2014. If it has been denied or stopped, it was due to an incomplete application.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said she spoke with Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill, who praised the success of the city’s LGBT pride parade.
“I think it is one of those things that shows inclusiveness in our community that is something I have long said we are,” Spruill said. “We are diverse, we are not divided in my opinion, and I don’t want to start having that view of us now.”
Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller said the issue would likely be one of the biggest the city board will face and hopes members will consider that. Miller noted beyond it being a personal and social issue, they have to look at this as an economic development issue. During his discussion, Miller said during the brief break the board took; he noticed a reporter from the Associated Press had taken notice of their possibility of denying the request for the pride parade. He said there would be another tweet saying the board voted to reject the application and the Associated Press has 12. 3 million followers.
“That’s 12.3 million people who immediately formulate a negative opinion about the city of Starkville,” Miller said. “It suddenly becomes what Starkville is not.” Miller asked the board where do they see themselves in history after this vote, especially with the movement of LGBT rights across the nation.
Comments from Starkville Pride
McDaniel said after hearing the vote, she was shocked by the decision. “I really wish that the city could have been a part of this historic event for Starkville, but they’re not,” she said. “All I can say is that this isn’t the last they will hear from us specifically about this issue.”
As for the next steps, McDaniel said their organization would be contacting the ACLU, The Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center over the decision. McDaniel referenced House Bill 1523, known as the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from government discrimination act” as to why their properly submitted request was denied.
Mississippi State Director of the HRC, Rob Hill, provided a statement to the Starkville Daily News on the board’s decision to deny the request for the parade.
“Twice now Starkville has shown it is not supportive of its LGBTQ residents, and the LGBTQ community will not forget,” Hill said. “It’s disappointing that the Starkville Board of Aldermen would deny LGBTQ people in Starkville the chance to celebrate Pride in their city.”
McDaniel said, “This says that, to them, we don’t matter.”