Pride is coming to Starkville after all.
On Tuesday night, the Starkville Board of Aldermen voted 4-3 to reverse its earlier decision blocking a petition to hold the town’s first-ever Pride parade. Ward 3 Alderman David Little, one of the four aldermen who voted down the proposal on Feb. 20, abstained during deliberations, which allowed Mayor Lynn Spruill to cast the tie-breaking vote.
Spruill, a supporter of LGBTQ rights, emailed the aldermen personally and asked them to reconsider their earlier ruling.
“Certainly the LGBTQ community thinks it’s important, and if they think it’s important, then I think it’s beneficial to the city,” the mayor told INTO in a phone conversation prior to yesterday’s meeting. “I also think that we are much more inclusive and receptive to people who are different and diverse than this vote would indicate.”
Although Little claimed he would stand by his “principled position,” the alderman signaled a desire to move past the controversy.
“I feel like I’ve had a lot more time in the last few weeks to ponder this,” Little claimed. “I believe the city of Starkville’s interests are best served by moving forward beyond this and pressing forward on other positive matters facing our community.”
The other three board members who voted against the Pride parade last monthBen Carver of Ward 1, Roy A. Perkins of Ward 6, and Henry Vaughn of Ward 7stood by their votes on Tuesday. As was the case during prior discussion over the event, the men did not voice the reasoning for their decisions.
After the February vote, the aldermen who rejected the proposal reportedly snuck out a back entrance.
The executive committee in the small town of just 25,000 people agreed to reconsider the issue following a lawsuit brought on behalf of Starkville Pride organizers Bailey McDaniel and Emily Turner. Roberta Kaplan, the famed civil rights lawyer slated to represent the Pride group in court, filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi on Feb. 26.
Kaplan claimed refusing the event denied the organizers of their “rights to freedom of speech, assemble, and petition guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
This isn’t the first time Starkville has found itself in a battle over LGBTQ rights. In January 2014, the college townwhich is home to Mississippi Statebecame the first municipality in the state to pass nondiscrimination protections for its queer and trans residents. It rescinded that policy a year later, along with same-sex partner benefits for city employees.
The same three aldermen who voted against the parade petition repealed those protections in a closed-door meeting, also without public comment.
But Kaplan claimed Tuesday’s decision to reverse that ruling is bigger than the LGBTQ rights movement. She said it amounted to a vindication of the “right to freedom of speech held by every American,” regardless of their sexual orientation.
“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,” she said in a statement.
The Pride parade will be held on March 26, along with a two-day festival of events. The programming will commence on March 23.
Photo from HRC on Twitter