Members of Starkville Pride and the public gathered at Mississippi State University Wednesday night to discuss the Starkville Board of Aldermen’s denial of the group’s request to host a gay pride parade in the city.
Tuesday night, the board voted 4-3 to deny the request, with Ben Carver of Ward 1, David Little of Ward 3, Vice Mayor Roy A’. Perkins and Henry Vaughn of Ward 7 voting in favor of the denial. In only a few days, the story has garnered national notoriety.
At the gathering Wednesday night, Starkville Pride President Bailey McDaniel announced the group is filing for an injunction against the city. She said a team of five lawyers will represent the organization for free, including attorney Roberta Kaplan, who argued against the Defense of Marriage Act.
DOMA, was passed in 1996 by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Section three of DOMA however was ruled unconstitutional in 2013 and granted federal benefits for gay couples whose marriages were recognized at the state level—like joint tax returns, Social Security, health insurance, pension protection and benefits for military couples.
“We’re taking down the city of Starkville, officially,” McDaniel said.
MSU law professor Whit Waide spoke at the meeting to inform attendees on the legality of a case like this. He said Starkville Pride’s application requesting the parade was properly filed, so the city had no reason to deny it unless the public’s safety was at risk.
“If the government operates in such a way to deprive you of your fundamental freedoms, it’s got to have a reason to do so that overrides your constitutional rights,” Waide said. “For example, if this parade was being organized by people who wanted to sling saw blades into the crowd, then they’ve got a right maybe to deny that permit.”
Waide said the LGBT group is “on the right side” and they have two amendments protecting them: the First Amendment of free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment, which states every citizen has equal protection under the law. Waide called the denial of the permit a “godforsaken violation of constitutional rights.”
“[The Aldermen] are wrong on this,” Waide said. “Dead wrong.”
However, after questions about how this issue relates to House Bill 1523, Waide told attendees not to get this issue confused with the bill, which states businesses can deny service based on their religious beliefs. He said the two are completely separate issues.
Also during the meeting, support for the parade was given by the Oktibbeha County Democratic Party, U.N. Pride Network, Indivisible Golden Triangle and downtown Starkville business, The Pop Porium.
Reagan Willis, president of the Oxford-based organization, U.N. Pride Network, attended the meeting and represented several other organizations from the University of Mississippi.
“I just want you to know that we were all moved,” Willis said.
They called the situation a “call to action” to bring gay pride groups together, no matter their schools’ rivalries.
McDaniel added the next Board of Aldermen meeting is March 6 at 5:30 p.m. and she requested people come and show support.
“We’re going to have the parade. We’re going to have Pride,” McDaniel said. “That is what the end goal is here, and if we can move on and make bigger strides to use this as precedent, I’d love to. I’m ready.”