Main Street was flooded with rainbows and flags Saturday during the second annual Pride Parade, organized by Starkville Pride.
Organizations, businesses and churches all participated in this year’s march. Indivisible Golden Triangle, University Baptist Church, the Center of Veterinary Medicine and Mississippi’s Human Rights Campaign were all present, as well as individuals marching to show personal support.
Billy Nickoles was one of the individuals marching in the parade.
"I came out in 1973 when I was 13, and now I’m able to stand up and be proud of who I am," Nickoles said.
"To show young kids who are gay and feel like we did when we were kids that it’s okay," added Dolan Shoemaker, Nickoles’ husband of three and a half years.
Nicholes and Shoemaker have been together for over seven years.
Justin Holbrook attended the march as drag queen persona Dee Pression. Pression believed people marched to stand up for other members of the LGBTQ community.
"I’m marching today because I want to make a difference, especially in Starkville, but in the state of Mississippi in general because we can make a difference," said Pression. "We’re fighting the protestors … we’re here and we’re queer."
Her friend, Joseph Knoll, nodded along.
"We’re going to be here no matter what," Knoll said.
Couple James Chamberlain and Stasha McBride brought their two children to watch the procession. One was perched on Chamberlain’s shoulders to get a better view, and both children were smiling and waving rainbow flags.
"Why wouldn’t you bring your children to something that celebrates love?" asked McBride.
Last year, organizing the parade came with some difficulty, after Starkville Pride was originally denied an event permit—something that had not happened since 2010, according to an article written by Larrison Campbell of Mississippi Today. In response, a lawsuit was filed against the city, but was promptly dropped when the decision was repealed and the parade was allowed to continue.
The decision was made by Starkville’s Board of Aldermen. During the first vote, the Board voted 4-3 against the group's event permit.
After national news coverage and backlash concerning the decision, along with the lawsuit, they redid the vote. This time, they voted 4-3 in favor of the parade. Only one Alderman changed his vote: Ward 3 David Little, abstained. The tie was then broken by Mayor Lynn Spruill, who had advocated for the event, voted in favor of the parade.
The threatened lawsuit cited a violation of the First Amendment, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The lawsuit, if allowed to continue, could have "easily cost the city six figures," Ward 4 Jason Walker told Mississippi Today.
“I think all the Aldermen have been notified by the city attorney by now that it’s not a case we can win,” stated Walker.
Starkville Pride board member Bailey McDaniel was instrumental in organizing the parade both years.
"When it came down to it, yeah it sucks we had to file a lawsuit, and it sucks we had to do all of these things, but it was for the event … for some of these people, (the parade) was the only time they’d felt welcomed, so I think it was an absolute success," said McDaniel.
This year, things fell into place without any resistance or hinderance from the city. Last year, around 3,000 people showed up, including supporters from out of state. However, Grey Garris, another organizer and board member of Starkville Pride, expressed how without the national concern and media attention from last year, participation and volunteering was difficult to round up.
The parade was followed closely by a group of protestors from the Consuming Fire Fellowship from Gloster, Mississippi. The protestors held signs with anti-LGBTQ sentiments, including "Sodomy is sin," "You are the enemy," and "Homosexuality is perversion." One individual tailed the protestors with a rainbow-painted trash can, banging on it with pot lids to drown out the protestors' megaphone.
Despite the protestors, the parade was peaceful. Many within the city and university supported the parade, and according to McDaniel, a large LGBTQ population is housed within both.
Garris encouraged people who are not queer but support LGBTQ rights, who are commonly referred to as "allies" by the community, to come show support. He stressed how pride is for everybody, and a place where people can "enjoy a space where they can be themselves."
"We welcome all of you to Pride," Garris said. "If you are positive towards the community, we will be positive towards you."