Group plans lawsuit against Starkville after LGBT pride parade blocked

Organizer of Starkville Pride Bailey McDaniel addresses members and attendees of the organization's meeting on Mississippi State University's campus on Wednesday. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)Starkville Pride organizer Bailey McDaniel (left) and attorney Roberta Kaplan of Kaplan & Company, LLP will represent Starkville Pride organizer Bailey McDaniel and the group after being notified by the Campaign For Southern Equality. Kaplan has been involved with litigation issues with respect to LGBTQ rights in Mississippi.
Staff Writer

The grassroots organization Starkville Pride plans to file a lawsuit against the city after the Starkville Board of Alderman voted to deny its permit request for an LGBT Pride Parade.

Aldermen approved the motion to deny the request with a 4-3 vote. Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Ward 3 Alderman David Little, Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A’. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn voted in favor of denying the request.

The motion to deny the request was made by Perkins. Starkville Pride applied for a special event request to host the 2018 Pride Parade and have city participation with in-kind services. The item was previously on the consent agenda, but was pulled off by Perkins at the beginning of the meeting.

Attorney Roberta Kaplan of Kaplan & Company, LLP will represent Starkville Pride organizer Bailey McDaniel and the group after being notified by the Campaign For Southern Equality. Kaplan has been involved with litigation issues with respect to LGBTQ rights in Mississippi.

Kaplan tried cases for marriage equality in Mississippi, worked to overturn the state’s ban on gay and lesbian adoption and represented the Campaign for Southern Equality in a constitutional challenge to Mississippi’s HB 1523, which is considered by many to be an anti-LGBT “religious freedom” law.

“It’s pretty clear to us that what the town did here was a blatant and overt violation of the First Amendment,” Kaplan said. “You can’t deny people the right to speak publicly based on the contents of their speech.”

Kaplan said from what she has gathered, the city has denied Starkville Pride of its rights.

Moving forward, Kaplan said her team will be evaluating the Facebook videos of the meeting, which is filmed during each Board of Aldermen meeting. She said as of now, she has an “extremely strong case.”

Kaplan told the Starkville Daily News she would not reveal any particular strategies or timelines of court filings.

“We intend to be very prompt,” Kaplan said. “We absolutely are going to do something to get this overturned.”

Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrera said their organization works with grassroots organizers and activists across Mississippi and are always looking to support local efforts.

Beach-Ferrera said when her organization saw coverage of what had happened, they reached out to McDaniel to offer their support and talk about how to keep fighting the denial of the LGBT Pride Parade.

“I think it’s a very brave thing what Bailey and other folks in Starkville Pride are doing,” Beach-Ferrera said. “We want them to know a lot of people have their back.”

Beach-Ferrera said more concretely, the group was able to put McDaniel in contact with Kaplan, who is now representing them.

As for what made Beach-Ferrera and her organization reach out to McDaniel, she said LGBT people in Mississippi and in the South experience discrimination and their organization works to monitor incidents where there is discrimination.

“When you have a public body denying a permit application and it doesn’t appear to be a reason for that denial besides the fact that it’s a Pride event,” Beach-Ferrera said. “We’re especially vigilant about any instances where it appears that someone’s basic rights are being abridged or eroded in any way.”

When asked about the potential lawsuit, Mayor Lynn Spruill said without knowing the nature of the lawsuit, and what it will contain, it would be premature to comment at this time.

“I think it’s an extreme and unfortunate set of circumstances that was easily avoidable,” Spruill said.

McDaniel told the Starkville Daily News after groups reached out to her to show their support, it didn’t seem real and is not what the group initially intended to do.

“I wasn’t planning on doing this, now I’m just kind of shocked and excited,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel said residents are doubting their organization will follow through with a lawsuit, but to McDaniel, the organization and supportive citizens, the denial of their rights is not a joke.

“The people who are kind of balking at the idea that we would do this, not to be rude, but sit and watch,” McDaniel said. “It’s happening.”


The Starkville Pride organization met on Tuesday night on Mississippi State University’s campus to discuss future Pride events and give an update on the process of filing a lawsuit against the city.

Prior to the meeting, McDaniel had not revealed to the group what her announcement would be, but when she stood in front of the group, she announced Kaplan would be representing the group for free.

“We are taking on the city of Starkville officially,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel said they will begin their paperwork on Thursday.

At the beginning of the meeting, MSU law professor Whit Waide provided insight as to why the city’s action was a violation of constitutional rights.

He said if the government deprives someone of their fundamental rights, they have to have a reason to do so to override that person’s constitutional right.

“The city of Starkville has absolutely no reason to have done this,” Waide said.

He addressed the room full of people saying he wants them to be aware of where they stand. He said Starkville Pride is on the right side of the issue and their case is winnable.

“It’s not even close,” Waide said. “You’re left with a governmental body that has no reason to have done what it has done.”

Waide said the organization is also protected by the 14th Amendment, where every citizen is guaranteed equal protection under the law. He said this means governments can’t “carve” a certain group of people out and deny them rights, which is exactly what’s been done by the city denying the event permit for the parade.

“You’re right and they’re wrong,” Waide said. “They are dead wrong.”

Waide said the message sent by the aldermen with their action means they are willing to brunt the legal fees with taxpayer money for efforts to not have an LGBT parade in Starkville.

The ACLU of Mississippi also issued a statement on Wednesday, condemning the action by the Board of Aldermen.

ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Jennifer Riley-Collins said the organization calls upon the city to act swiftly in approving a request to host the parade, with a denial potentially violating the First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights of those involved.

“The government cannot prevent a parade or event simply because it promotes LGBTQ pride or because its organizers and marchers are LGBTQ,” Riley-Collins said. “In addition, the government cannot treat people unequally because they are LGBTQ. This is exactly what the Board of Alderman did, and that is discrimination, plain and simple. It also violates the Constitution.”


McDaniel reiterated to those in attendance that not every alderman opposed the parade.

McDaniel encouraged the group to voice their concerns to their particular aldermen and to be respectful throughout the process.

“This is for Starkville, this is for the surrounding community,” McDaniel said.

Since the city allows a time for citizen comments during meetings, McDaniel said now is the time for Starkville Pride members and supporting residents to plan on “flooding” the next Board of Aldermen meeting with people ready to voice their opinion.

A member from the Starkville community recommended people work to have a public appearance and be on the board’s agenda.

The organization also announced its future plans of other events for their pride weekend.

Some of these events include a queer art market at Fire Station Park, Pride Puppies and a drag show.

McDaniel said she wants everyone to attend their festivities no matter their sexuality to bring business, a sense of community and love to city of Starkville.

“We are going to have the parade. That is the end goal,” McDaniel said. “We need to make this the biggest event Starkville has seen.”