LGBT groups have filed a lawsuit against the town of Starkville, Mississippi, after the town council turned down a request for a permit for a gay pride parade last week.
The Starkville council meeting drew members of the community speaking against the parade as well as gay activists, some of whom reportedly traveled two hours to attend the meeting. In the end, the seven-member council voted 4-3 against granting a special event permit, which would have entailed hosting and paying for accommodations for the first homosexual march on its streets.
After the negative outcome, Starkville Pride contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center to bring a lawsuit against the city. Attorney Roberta Kaplan, a veteran of homosexual litigation, will represent Starkville Pride in its lawsuit against the city.
“It’s disappointing that the Starkville Board of Aldermen would deny LGBTQ people in Starkville the chance to celebrate pride in their own city,” said Rob Hill, the state director of the Human Rights Campaign.
For its part, the ACLU warned the board that its decision “violates the Constitution.” Mississippi ACLU Executive Director Jennifer Riley-Collins issued a statement calling the city council’s vote “disturbing” and demanded the board “reconsider…and approve the request.”
Last Thursday, a number of LGBT groups united in a joint statement protesting the decision.
“In light of recent events in Starkville, we, the UM Pride Collective, have been in contact with the LGBTQ+ community of Starkville and want to make clear that Starkville Pride’s weekend long celebration will persist,” the statement read. “The members of the Starkville Board of Aldermen who voted to deny the parade permit may have thought that they would dampen the spirits of Starkville Pride; however, this has served to strengthen the resolve of LGBTQ+ Mississippians, mobilizing and uniting us.”
The executive director of Queer People of Color, Malik Pridgeon, denounced the ruling, accusing the council of bigotry.
“In all honesty, the decision by the Starkville aldermen is an overt declaration of intolerance and ignorance,” he said. “This decision shows that not only are they living in the past, but they are woefully ignorant to the needs of visibility and inclusion of their residents.”
A lesbian couple from Mississippi State University, Bailey McDaniel and Emily Turner, filed the federal lawsuit on Monday against the city of Starkville, on the grounds that it denied free speech to Starkville Pride.
“The city banned plaintiffs from speaking in a public forum solely because it disagreed with the viewpoint and content of their speech,” the lawsuit states. “That hostility to their message was inextricably intertwined with hostility to their LGBT identity and pro-LGBT advocacy.”
The lawsuit also states that the Starkville Pride permit request was treated differently from other events, since Starkville had approved 55 straight special events applications in recent years.
“This difference in process is strong evidence of viewpoint bias,” the lawsuit states.
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