February 22, 2018 11:20:00 AM
Starkville Pride, a local LGBT support group, got support from local and state groups during a Wednesday evening meeting at Mississippi State University Wednesday.
The meeting came after the Starkville Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to deny the group's request to hold a Pride parade downtown on March 24. Four aldermen--Ben Carver of Ward 1, David Little of Ward 3, Roy A. Perkins of Ward 6 and Henry Vaughn of Ward 7-- voted to deny the request. They have yet to publicly offer reasoning as to why.
During Wednesday's meeting, Whit Waide, a clinical assistant professor in MSU's Political Science Department, encouraged the dozens of people in the Colvard Student Union third-floor meeting room to push back against the city's decision.
Waide, who teaches constitutional law at MSU, said he used the city's decision during class on Wednesday to illustrate a violation of constitutional rights. The government has to have a legitimate reason to deny requests, Waide said. So far, in the Starkville Pride case, Starkville's city government has offered none.
It would have been easy, Waide said, to deny the parade on an administrative basis if the application for a permit had not properly been completed, but that's wasn't the case with Starkville Pride's request. As such, Waide said the city's decision was a violation of the group's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and "it's not even close."
"You have these fundamental rights to protest," Waide said. "Any time the government acts in such a way to deny you or deprive you of those fundamental rights, they've got to have a reason to do so. The city of Starkville has absolutely no reason to have done this.
"They are wrong, and they are going to lose, and I want you to be aware of that," Waide later said. "I'm proud of y'all. It makes me excited to see this room. Fight these bastards."
Waide also noted that MSU Athletic Director John Cohen and his wife, Nelle, would have been at the Starkville Pride meeting if not for a prior engagement.
"Nelle Cohen is a very, very good friend to have, and y'all have a friend in her," he said.
Other organizations, businesses offer support
Starkville Pride is planning to bring a lawsuit against the city for denying its request. The New York firm Kaplan and Company has agreed to represent the group.
Wednesday's meeting also saw representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union in Jackson, the Oktibbeha County Democratic Party, Mississippi Votes and the University of Mississippi Pride Network offer support to Starkville Pride.
Regan Willis, president of the UM Pride Network, said her group was "moved" after learning about the denial of the parade request.
"We're a state, you know? No matter what, I know many people and it's Mississippi first," she said. "This is beyond colleges, this is beyond schools. And I want everyone here to know that you have our efforts, and I speak for the collective of our student organizations. You have our efforts. You have our hearts. You have our network. Whatever you need, we will be there."
Rosa Dalomba, owner of the Poporium downtown, said she was shocked when she found out about the board's vote to deny the request. Dalomba, who spoke in favor of the parade at Tuesday's board meeting, said she's since gotten upset calls and prank calls to her business. But she said she's going to stand by the group, no matter the cost to her personally.
"If somehow, in this bizarre world, Pride does not happen, we will get together, right on Main Street, and in between my four walls --as far as I'm concerned I pay all the bills -- and we will have Pride in the Poporium," she said.
The Poporium is not the only business to show support for Starkville Pride. Organizers said DeRego's Bread and the Starkville Community Theatre have put rainbow banners in their front windows since the board's denial and others may follow suit.
Waide: 'Take the high road'
Should the group decide to press on with some sort of event anyway in the face of the board's denial, Waide cautioned them to do so respectfully.
"Take the high road," he said. "You remember how Michelle Obama used to say that? Take the high road. If you have the parade anyway, don't be a nuisance. Don't block traffic. Don't give them a reason to mess with you. Have a nice brisk walk with lots of people down the sidewalk.
"Don't get in the middle of the road and say 'F you, government' because then you allow them the legal option of punishment, which you don't want to do," he added.
Bailey McDaniel, an organizer for Starkville Pride, said she was very grateful for the support the group has received.
"We weren't' expecting this," she said. "To know that all of these people care enough about us and care enough about this city to make it better and stay better--I'm humbled. I don't have any other words."
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