January 23, 2014 10:43:29 AM
Someday, when the story of the LGBT struggle for Civil Right in Mississippi is told, people such as Ben Carver, Roy A. Perkins and Henry Vaughn will be regarded as pioneers of the movement.
During Tuesday's Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting, these three aldermen -- each known for strict adherence to traditional conservative values as expressed through their religious convictions -- joined with the other aldermen to unanimously pass a resolution avowing the city's commitment against discrimination in all of its manifestations. Most notably, the resolution asserted the city would not discriminate on the basis of gender identity and expression, marital status, sexual orientation and familial status.
LGBT activists proclaimed the resolution, adopted without dissent or discussion, as the first passed by a Mississippi city to establish, preserve and protect the rights of the LGBT community. This was one of those rare occasions when a non-binding resolution made by a small town became big, big news. In the hours after the board's action, social media exploded: LGBT support groups from around the country and from as far away as Ireland heralded the city's action.
Based on observations of the board since it first convened last July, we know these three aldermen, especially, have endeavored to keep their religious beliefs at the forefront of every matter that comes before the board. In fact, they often invoke the Deity when challenged by residents at board meetings.
Who can forget Carver recalling the hours of anguished prayer he engaged in before his vote to fire Lynn Spruill, the city's chief administrative officer, without citing a cause? When God told Carver to fire Spruill, he did not tempt God by asking for a reason. Residents shouldn't ask, either.
Likewise, we note Perkins' devotion to his faith by his stated intention to repeal Sunday sales of alcohol in the city.
And during the same Tuesday aldermen meeting, Vaughn chastised residents who criticize the board. Vaughn said he isn't offended by the often bitter complaints, mind you, but he's pretty sure that God is deeply troubled by criticism directed at the aldermen. "It's a disgrace in the sight of God," said Vaughn, who is just sick and tired of people coming out against God and the Board of Aldermen.
So in light of it all, Tuesday's resolution was historic. We can only imagine the great personal struggle Carver, Perkins and Vaughn endured as they sought to reconcile their own deep personal religious convictions with one of the great contemporary issues of our time.
Now, there will be some cynics among us who will seek to take away the credit that is due the aldermen by saying that the aldermen weren't aware of the language in the resolution and passed it without of considering the historical significance of the proclamation. There are some who suggest that the aldermen will find whoever it is who was responsible for crafting the resolution and hold them accountable. We have seen what happens to underlings who embarrass the board by performing their duties quietly and competently. As it is written, "they shall be smitten."
Most troubling of all are those black-hearted few who predict the aldermen may quietly move to alter the landmark resolution and place a truncated version of the resolution on the consent agenda of a future meeting in an attempt to hide their actions from public view.
Will we allow these courageous public servants to have their reputations so recklessly impugned? Perish the thought.
To suggest that aldermen do not take their jobs seriously, that they do not carefully consider and deliberate thoughtfully over the affairs entrusted to them by the city is a most serious and unfounded charge.
So let us dispense with the excuses that some may present in an effort to deny them the credit they deserve in making Starkville first when it comes to officially recognizing the rights of our gay, lesbian, trans-gender and bisexual citizens.
And let us resolve to always remember their critical contributions to this historic achievement.
When, not if, the city of Starkville holds its inaugural Gay Pride Parade, brave social conservatives like Ben Carver, Roy A. Perkins and Henry Vaughn should be grand marshals.
It would be a well-deserved tribute, indeed.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.