Starkville, Mississippi — a city of 25,570 about 125 miles northeast of Jackson — just had its first-ever Pride celebration this past weekend. And, surprisingly, the Starkville Pride parade was the city’s largest parade ever at about 3,000 attendees (just under 12% of its total population). This shows that no matter the size of the city or how hidden its LGBTQ population, queer people and our allies exist everywhere.
You may recall that Starkville’s Board of Aldermen initially denied the request to issue permits for an LGBTQ pride parade even though the paperwork had been filed correctly and the Board had never refused a request since 2014.
The city later claimed it refused the request over three concerns about the $3,200 administrative cost associated with the parade, the risk of potentially “explicit” parade entries and fears the city would be seen as it’s “sponsor.”
Starkville Pride filed a federal lawsuit against the city in response, receiving legal representation from renowned civil rights attorney Roberta A. Kaplan, the lawyer who represented Edie Windsor before the Supreme Court.
That changed the city’s tune real quick. The Board re-voted and approved the parade the following night. Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker conceded that the $3,200 cost the city would have to spend throwing the parade was nothing compared to the money the city would lose fighting a doomed-to-fail lawsuit.
Upon seeing the recordbreaking attendance of the Pride parade this past Saturday, Mayor Lynn Spruill said, “I never expected to have this many people. Somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 people and this would never have happened if we didn’t have the controversy, so I’m almost grateful for the controversy in the sense it became something more than it ever would have been and it became something we can be very proud of, with no issues associated with it.
Public visibility of LGBTQ communities in Mississippi is especially important considering the state has a “no promo homo” law forbidding public school teachers from mentioning LGBTQ people in the classroom. The state also ranks eighth nationwide in terms of HIV rates, so any progressive public discussions on sexuality can only help.
The Starkville Pride parade reportedly began with a Queer Art Market in the city’s Fire Station Park and proceeded through the city’s Main Street with attendees carrying signs, balloons and singing songs.
Only 10 to 15 Christian counter-protestors showed up to condemn “sodomy,” but both sides praised local police for helping maintain public peace.
What do you think of the first-ever Starkville Pride parade? Sound off in the comments.
Feature image by Logan Kirkland via Starkville Daily News