February 21, 2018 9:57:23 AM
Starkville Pride organizers left the courtroom -- some in tears -- after aldermen voted 4-3 to deny their request to host a Pride parade in March.
Bailey McDaniel, an organizer who pleaded with aldermen to support the decision, said the group will continue to press on with events in the community.
"There's no point in saying anything mean or saying anything ugly," McDaniel said. "But I do want Starkville to know we're not going away. This will not be the end of what you're hearing from us -- we are still having our pride events and I so terribly wished that the city of Starkville could have been a part of it and the historical change we could've made in Starkville."
Starkville Pride is a grassroots lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) support group. The Pride parade, which would have been the city's first, would have offered a chance to celebrate the city's LGBT community, according to organizers.
McDaniel stopped short of saying Starkville Pride planned to sue the city, but said the group will reach out to the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign and Southern Poverty Law Center.
On Tuesday, the board took the unusual move, at Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk's request, to go into executive session at the beginning of the meeting to discuss potential litigation related to the parade.
Mayor Lynn Spruill, speaking to The Dispatch after Tuesday's meeting adjourned, said the executive session was to discuss the possibilities of a lawsuit.
"It certainly was one of the things that was talked about," she said. "You can always get sued by anybody for anything. If we're going to open ourselves up to litigation for something, I always want to know what the chances or odds are that we'd be successful or that we'd prevail in what we did."
During the meeting, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker asked City Planner Daniel Havelin if the city had denied any special event requests which were properly applied for. Havelin said that, since he started working with the city in 2014, the city has not. The only events that were stopped or denied, he said, were those were not properly applied for.
Ward 1 Aldermen Ben Carver, Ward 3 Alderman David Little, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn voted to deny the request. Sistrunk, Walker and Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller supported issuing the permit.
Past LGBT issues
Tuesday's vote was not the first time LGBT issues have caused a stir in Starkville. In January 2014, the city passed a landmark nondiscrimination policy that included language protecting LGBT employees. Starkville was the first city in Mississippi to offer such protections, and others followed in its footsteps.
In September the same year, the city adopted a plus-one insurance policy that would have allowed LGBT employees to provide insurance to their partners.
Aldermen killed the non-discrimination policy and the plus-one insurance behind closed doors in January 2015. The same four aldermen who voted against the parade on Tuesday, along with former Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn, voted to rescind the policies.
"The ones that voted against (the parade) were the same who voted against the other thing last term," Walker said. "There's not a lot of change in the mindset and philosophy in that regard. I believe it's unfortunate overall for the city. But that's where we are. It's unfortunate, but unsurprising."
Rob Hill, director of the Human Rights Campaign in Mississippi and former Starkville resident, referenced the city's past turmoil with LGBT issues in a statement issued Tuesday night.
"Twice now Starkville has shown it is not supportive of its LGBT residents, and the community will not forget," Hill said. "It's disappointing the Starkville Board of Aldermen would deny LGBT people in Starkville the chance to celebrate Pride in their own city."
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