Mississippi town rejects gay pride parade; lawsuit possible

Starkville Pride member Alexandra Hendon attempts to comfort organizer of Starkville Pride and the Pride Parade Bailey McDaniel, who cries after hearing the 4-3 vote denying the organization's request for an LGBT pride parade. Logan Kirkland/The Starkville Daily News, via AP.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Organizers of a group that was planning a Mississippi college town's first-ever gay pride parade said Wednesday that they're exploring legal action after city officials denied them a permit.

Starkville aldermen voted 4-3 Tuesday to deny the permit requested by Starkville Pride, an LGBT support group, drawing criticism from the city's mayor and leaving some members of the group in tears.

Others who attended the meeting said none of the four aldermen explained the reasons for their decision, either in public or in a closed session where the city lawyer warned of possible legal action. Three left by a back door after the meeting.

It's the third time in recent years that aldermen have voted against an LGBT-friendly measure. In 2015, aldermen repealed a nondiscrimination policy and stopped providing health insurance to unmarried partners of city employees. At the time, gay marriage was illegal in Mississippi.

Bailey McDaniel, one of the organizers of the pride weekend, said that Roberta Kaplan, a lawyer who has handled groundbreaking gay rights litigation in the state and nationally, has agreed to represent her. Andrew Friedman, a spokesman for Kaplan, said Tuesday that no litigation has been filed yet.

McDaniel says she and others wanted to have a parade to show the strength of the city's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"The parade is integral because it shows the community that we're here, we're not going anywhere, you see us in everyday life," said McDaniel, a senior criminology major at Mississippi State University in Starkville.

Sixteen people spoke to aldermen in favor of having the gay pride parade and two spoke against it, Mayor Lynn Spruill said.

The Starkville Daily News reported that resident Dorothy 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."

Resident Kevin Williams, who spoke in favor of the parade, said this was a time for the city to be on the right side of history. Many years ago, African-American people would have been denied the same type of request, he said.

Spruill said she was disappointed with the decision, noting that Oxford, Mississippi, where the University of Mississippi is based, has held gay pride parades for several years.

"I think it creates a view of the city of Starkville as noninclusive, and I happen to think we are an inclusive community," the mayor said of the decision. "We value diversity."

Alderman Jason Walker, who voted in support of the parade, said he was disappointed that his colleagues who voted no have given no explanation for their decision.

"It's unfortunate that you go through the process, you do everything you're supposed to do and you get denied, really without any explanation as to why," Walker said.

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The Gayly. February 22, 2018. 4:00 p.m. CST.