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Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara Headshot

Standing Up for LGBT Rights in Mississippi

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What comes next in the LGBT movement? Here in the South, the answer remains clear: committing to new strategies and investing significant resources in states where LGBT people remain second-class citizens.

This commitment is why the Campaign for Southern Equality heads to Mississippi today for the next stage of the WE DO Campaign and to run a series of free legal clinics regarding LGBT rights. The WE DO Campaign involves LGBT couples requesting - and being denied - marriage licenses in their hometowns across the South in order to call for full equality under federal law and to resist unjust state laws. Rather than running from deeply entrenched discriminatory state laws, we are confronting them directly by provoking their enforcement and shining a light on the harm that they do.

During July, the WE DO Campaign will be in these cities across Mississippi:

July 10: Poplarville and Gulfport
July 12: Hattiesburg
July 15: Jackson
July 18: Tupelo

Routinely ranked as 50th in public support for marriage equality, Mississippi expands a new Southern front in our movement. The necessity for federal equality in all spheres of life is powerfully illustrated by LGBT people in Mississippi who are prepared to be out in their hometowns and walk into public courthouses to seek equal treatment as citizens, knowing they will be denied because of current state laws. Such laws and their attendant harms powerfully evidence the systems of discrimination that persist in state laws. These laws can only be adequately remedied through changes in federal law and federal court rulings. We will keep growing the WE DO Campaign until this change happens.

If you detect urgency in my tone, it's because I see the human consequences of discriminatory laws in the South every day, needlessly compounded by the limited services and resources here. For far too long, the South has been dismissed as "unwinnable" when it comes to LGBT rights and, as a result, receives remarkably limited funding. LGBT people proudly call this region home, though, building their lives and families here. In Mississippi 26 percent of same-sex couples are raising kids, the highest percentage of any state in the country. As I've traveled from the Gulf Coast up through northern Mississippi, I've been inspired by how many people are out - at work, to their families, to their neighbors - and ready to take action.

Yet such resilience cannot protect us from the risks and harms that come with second-class citizenship. An immediate need persists for LGBT-friendly services in Mississippi. That's why, with the support of the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center, we'll be offering free legal clinics across Mississippi where individuals can complete an Advanced Health-Care Directive on-site for free. This tool that protects an individual's wishes in a medical emergency can help every LGBT person, regardless of age, income status, being singled or partnered, or being L, G, B or T. Advanced directives can be particularly important tools for transgender folks to help ensure that they are treated according to their actual gender identity in a medical emergency. It typically costs about $300 to $400 in legal fees to execute this document, an expense which can be prohibitive.

In urgency, one finds motivation to act; and in action, one finds hope. Nothing makes me more hopeful than seeing how ready LGBT people and allies across Mississippi are to stand up for equality in new, bold ways, through the WE DO Campaign as well as the efforts of groups like the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition. Their courage and strength are inspirational as we move forward with LGBT rights in this country.

Today and everyday, I'm asking you to stand with LGBT people and allies in Mississippi as they take action in their hometowns to advocate for federal equality in all spheres of life. We'll be sharing updates from the WE DO Campaign in real time during the next two weeks; we need your help to share this story more broadly. Check out our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for live updates that you can share with family and friends across the country.