Starkville's first LGBT pride parade denied by city

By Alex Holloway, ClarionLedger


Aldermen voted Tuesday to deny a request from Starkville Pride to host the city's first Pride Parade.

Starkville Pride, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) support group, was seeking to hold the parade on March 24. The proposed route would have started on Russell Street, and looped around downtown Starkville on Main and Lampkin streets.

The vote against the parade came on a motion from Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins. Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver seconded Perkins' motion. David Little and Henry Vaughn, of wards 3 and 7, respectively, also voted to deny the request. 

Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller voted in support of the parade.

After the meeting, Carver, Little and Perkins left from the municipal courtroom's back entrance. Vaughn declined to comment on his vote.

Carver, reached later by phone, said he had "been advised" not to comment on his vote, and declined to elaborate further.

Little and Perkins did not immediately respond to phone calls for comment after Tuesday's meeting. 
None of the aldermen who voted against the parade voiced their opinions on the matter during the board meeting. 

The parade was originally on the consent agenda for Tuesday's meeting, meaning it would have been approved among other housekeeping matters without discussion. However, Perkins asked that the item be removed from consent to allow a separate vote. 

More than a dozen people spoke in favor of the Pride parade during Tuesday's citizen comment period, while two spoke against it.

Alexandra Hendon, one of the Starkville Pride organizers, said she's found Starkville to be a supporting, inclusive place. She asked aldermen to expand that support to allow the LGBT event.

"I want that to be expressed for everybody," she said. "I want that to be expressed for the students who come here as freshmen who are in the LGBT community and who want so desperately to find that sense of community and that binding sense of welcoming. This event, I think, will do that. 

"This isn't a march," she added. "This isn't a protest. This is something that will bind this community together." 

Longtime Starkville resident Dorothy Isaac spoke against the request. 

"If anything should be held up and down our streets, it should not be this," Isaac said. "God made Adam and Eve. I'm not saying what you want to be -- everybody can be what they want to be. I said he made Adam and Eve." 

Pastor Thomas Rogers, of Josey Creek Missionary Baptist Church, indicated he believes Starkville already adequately accepts the LGBT community but said the parade request sought "special privilege." 

"I think this is a very inclusive, a very friendly place, a very friendly city, a very friendly county," Rogers said. "We've done a lot of things for the university and to attract businesses and influential people. But every city has to have limits. Cities without walls are easily taken." 

Mississippi State University Assistant Vice President for Multicultural Affairs Ra'Sheda Forbes spoke on behalf of the university Tuesday and asked aldermen to support the parade. She said MSU is making efforts to make sure its faculty, staff and students feel welcome in the community and asked aldermen to do the same. 

"We really encourage the city to continue to make strides as well, so that as we continue to grow our institution, as we continue to grow our faculty, staff and students, they know the city of Starkville is their home as well," she said. 

Oktibbeha County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Chris Taylor also spoke in favor of the parade. 

"The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality and rights of all people," Taylor said. "All people. And to eliminate race-based discrimination. That's all I got to say. That is the mission. I am the president, and I support the mission." 

Spruill, who spoke in favor of the parade during the meeting, told The Dispatch she was disappointed with the board's decision.

"I am hurt that we feel as though we have to tell any group in our community 'No' to something as simple as a parade and a show of unity," Spruill said. "I am very disappointed that we chose to disallow that opportunity to have that Pride parade." 

Spruill also pointed out Oxford has held Pride parades for several years without incident, and she felt there was no reason Starkville couldn't do the same. 

She also said the decision will likely reflect poorly on Starkville. 

"I think it does, and I think it's very unfortunate because I don't think we are as closed as this vote indicates," she said. "We obviously are a divided board — it was a 4-3 vote. So I think you have a group of people who are made uncomfortable, and while I tend to embrace things that make me uncomfortable because it's a way to grow, there are some folks who are not so inclined." 

Miller, who offered an impassioned defense of the parade, also said the board's decision could harm the city's image. 

"I think it quickly becomes about what the city is not," he said. "The narrative changes about what this board is doing, and how we're moving forward. I didn't see it as anything different than any other event that we have." 

Walker also expressed disappointment with the vote, and with the lack of explanation as to why the request was denied. 

"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. 

Sistrunk recalled people asking her when she and her husband decided to return to Starkville, if they really wanted to move back to Mississippi. Tuesday's vote, she said, showed the city may have more growing to do than she expected. 

"I'm more disappointed that we would have a board that felt it was OK to do this," she said. "That's very disappointing to me. It feels like it says we've not made as much progress in 20 years as perhaps I thought we had."

The Human Rights Campaign's Mississippi director, Rob Hill, said, "Twice now Starkville leaders have shown that they are not supportive of their LGBTQ residents, and the LGBTQ community will not forget. It's disappointing that the Starkville Board of Aldermen would deny LGBTQ people in Starkville the chance to celebrate pride in their own city."

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