Aldermen OK request for city’s first LGBTQ pride parade

Organizer of Starkville Pride Bailey McDaniel celebrates outside of Starkville city hall after the board approved the organization’s special event request for the city’s first LGBT parade.(Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
By: 
LOGAN KIRKLAND
Staff Writer

In a packed City Hall with standing room only, the Starkville Board of Aldermen on Tuesday night approved a special event request for the city’s first gay pride parade.

The city approved a motion from Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk to rescind the previous denial and approve the 2018 Pride Parade with in-kind services to be held on March 24 without sponsorship of the city of Starkville.

Aldermen approved the motion with a 4-3 vote with Mayor Lynn Spruill as the tie breaking vote and Ward 3 Alderman David Little opting to abstain.

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Vice Mayor Roy A'. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn voted against the motion.

Sistrunk said Starkville Pride's application for a special event request was an attempt to be consistent with how the city treats groups of people, and to not treat this application any differently.

She said the board wasn't mindful of this event being something new for the city, which came as a "growing pain" for its residents.

"I do think the last two weeks have given us time to consider several different things related to this application," Sistrunk said. "I think we are now in a position where we can make a more measured and reasoned vote tonight."

Before offering up the motion, Sistrunk addressed three concerns brought up during citizens comments.

As for the cost of the parade, Sistrunk said the $3,200 mentioned is in line with any event of this type or any event the city has had.

Another concern brought to the aldermen was that the contents of the parade could have explicit content. Sistrunk said the people who want to have the parade love Starkville and would not put the city in a position for any type of intervention.

"They're going to have a parade, it's going to be a celebration and I don't expect anything to fall into lewd or illegal behavior," Sistrunk said.

The last concern Sistrunk discussed was having the city sponsor the event, which was addressed in her motion.

BOARD DISCUSSION

Carver said he attempted to talk to everyone who left him messages and emails concerning the issue. He said any time someone began cursing at him, he would not field their calls.

"I received numerous, numerous serious threats to myself and my family," Carver said.

Carver said he made those in his ward the top priority in terms of responding.

Carver applauded everyone attending the meeting, saying even with an extremely contentious issue, the debates and discussions remained civil.

Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker said with this reconsideration, it is necessary to find a way to separate beliefs from their decision.

Walker said the constitution and law matters, and the lawsuit filed against the city by Starkville Pride would bring harm to the city, primarily from a financial standpoint.

"I don't think there's any question about it, that if this lawsuit continues, the city of Starkville is going to lose," Walker said.

With people concerned about the expenses of the parade, Walker said the $3,200 for in-kind services would be dwarfed by the amount of money the city would have to spend on legal fees if the city chose to fight the lawsuit.

"No matter which side of the fence that you are on, I think we have to figure out if that truly is the best use of the taxpayer's dollars," Walker said.

Walker addressed the crowd, saying if the amount of people who came to the meeting to show their support for the pride parade attend, then they would deem it successful.

"I think it has the opportunity to be something that could be good for our community, I hope it's something that's good for our community," Walker said. "I hope people will come out and enjoy it and if it's not what you want, then don't take part. That’s part of the choice."

Little, who abstained his vote, said when the pride parade was initially put on the consent agenda at the board's work session, he was out of the country. He said the aldermen who voted against having the parade felt the item was hidden from the board.

"I felt that this matter was intended to be slipped passed the board and my initial thoughts were later confirmed," Little said.

After voicing his concerns, he said it was pertinent for the mayor and city officials to be transparent with the board.

"I believe that the city of Starkville's best interest to better serve in moving forward beyond this and pressing forward on other policy matters facing our community," Little said. "That being said, while I maintain my principle position, I plan to abstain with my vote.”

Spruill responded by saying she wasn't attempting to slip the item by the board. She said it was to her understanding the board members understood what a pride parade was.

CITIZEN COMMENTS

Before the meeting, Spruill addressed the crowd, saying because there was a large group of people attending, she would limit each side to 15 minutes.

Vaughn said there was no reason to limit the time for citizens to speak and wanted everyone to have the opportunity to speak for three minutes. Perkins echoed Vaughn's concerns saying it's their obligation to allow each individual to speak.

Vaughn offered a motion to allow everyone to speak and the motion was denied with a 4-3 vote.

Those in favor of the parade spoke first during the citizens comments.

Citizen Hunter Andrews said over the past two weeks there's been the question as to why members of the LGBT community should have a parade. He said people celebrate women's rights and the rights of African-Americans.

He said members of the heterosexual community do not know what it's like to fight for the right to marry the person they love.

"We as members of the LGBT community are still fighting for those rights," Andrews said "That is why we need a parade, why we have the entitlement to have a parade to celebrate the trials and tribulations that we have gone through and still fight through."

Resident Ryan Handran, who served in Iraq as a combat medic for the National Guard, said he is afraid the city is becoming a "city of sin".

Handran quoted a bible verse saying, this bible verse condemning bigotry has been left out of many conversations and the board's prejudice was noticed and will not be tolerated.

"As a veteran, I'm disgusted by your lack of respect for the freedom given to every person who walks this great country's soil," Handran said. "I'm a straight man and you're not even taking something away from me but an attack on my peers, is an attack on me."

Handran said with the recent denial, it shows a few alderman's opinions weigh heavier then the civil liberties of residents. He said he was disappointed they hate a group of people so much that they would not grant them the ability to organize.

"There's hate here, hate for a group of people you don't understand and unfortunately you're not willing to understand," Handran said "The city of Starkville will not let your hate lead us into the darkness. Your bigotry will not be tolerated, your hate will not be tolerated and I demand that the permit for the parade on March 24 be granted."

Resident Dorothy Isaac spoke against the parade, saying she is not scared to voice her opinion.

"It's wrong, God said it's wrong," Isaac said. "This is not civil rights, civil rights is what you do that's right. I think it's a sin."

Isaac said she thinks the city should not spend money on the parade and when there are other issues at hand the city should use its money for.

Ward 7 resident Johnny Buckner said the board's denial wasn't necessarily about the content, message or identity of the group but the matter of a procedural issue.

"It seems these details were intentionally hidden by someone that was in the know," Buckner said.

Buckner said from his understanding, the four Aldermen were not aware of hidden details of the denied request. The specific details he pointed out where there was no mention of the event being a LGBT parade on the cover sheet and the details were hidden in small print.

He also said it was easy for members to be confused thinking Starkville Pride was a civic pride organization rather than a LGBT group and the art market was a queer art market.

"When anyone wants to parade their sexual lifestyle in our streets without any accountability or definition as to what they will or will not do, they force the very ones that have loved and accepted you the most to stand against them for their morale and religious convictions," Buckner said. "I hope the Board of Aldermen will approve the permit in due time with proper questions answered in the application."

Veterinarian Tim Cummings spoke against having the parade saying it's a matter of anatomy and physiology.

"The male body was not made for a male body, the female body wasn't made for a female," Cummings said. "It's abnormal,"

Cummings said people hate him and call him a bigot, just because he disagrees with the parade.

He said there shouldn't be anything wrong with having a difference in opinion.

STARKVILLE PRIDE

Starkville Pride's attorney Roberta A. Kaplan sent a response to the aldermen’s decision to approve the organization’s parade permit after the meeting Tuesday night.

"Bailey McDaniel, Emily Turner and Starkville Pride stood up to vindicate the right to freedom of speech held by every American, no matter whether they are straight or gay.  What happened at tonight’s meeting was a victory not only for our clients and for their equal dignity under the law, but also for the core principle that in this country, we do not restrict a person’s ability to speak based on whether or not we agree with what they have to say.  We look forward to celebrating Pride with the LGBT community of Starkville and the rest of Mississippi on March 24,” Kaplan said in a press release.

Organizer of Starkville Pride Bailey McDaniel said she was thrilled about the decision because she was not expecting the vote to be what it was on Tuesday night..

"This is all we wanted," McDaniel said. "This is literally all we've wanted was to have the parade and to have the city behind us."

She said when Little abstained, she had a strong feeling the parade would be approved. McDaniel said hearing the words the parade was approved felt surreal.

"It feels like the weight of the world is off my shoulders," McDaniel said.

McDaniel said the message the aldermen gave to the community shows it's a process and everyone is learning.

"To me, it's a step in the right direction. It’s not a leap, but it's a step," McDaniel said. "Starkville Pride persists and we will continue to do so every year."

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