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03/07/2018 06:40 am ET

Mississippi Town Approves Pride Parade After Fierce Backlash

"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."
paul mansfield photography via Getty Images

The town of Starkville, Mississippi, will host its first gay pride parade this month after its officials reversed a decision to reject a permit.

The Starkville Board of Alderman on Tuesday voted again whether to approve the event, and tied 3-3. The mayor, Lynn Spruill, then cast the deciding vote in favor of the parade, now scheduled for March 24.

The board came under fire in February after it denied the event’s organizers a permit  to hold the town’s first gay pride rally, even after a majority of people spoke out in its favor at the original hearing, and there were no concerns with cost. But the aldermen voted 4-3 to reject it, provoking widespread outrage that put the town of 25,000 in the national spotlight.

The sponsors of the event, a group called Starkville Pride, filed a federal lawsuit after the initial decision, saying officials had discriminated against LGBTQ residents and violated free speech rights.

Tuesday’s vote came after Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk asked the board to reconsider the permit, calling the hubbub “a bit of a growing pain for the city.”

“I think we’re in a position where we can make a more measured and reasoned vote tonight,” Sistrunk said, according to The Associated Press.

Roberta Kaplan, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Starkville Pride, said that her law firm was “so incredibly proud” to represent the group, and that she couldn’t wait for the parade. A judge has not yet ruled on the lawsuit, and it’s unclear if it will proceed now that the parade has been approved.

“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,” Kaplan said in a statement provided to the Starkville Daily News.

The approval also was hailed by the Human Rights Campaign, which said local outrage pushed the city to “do the right thing.”

The group “has been proud to work alongside Starkville Pride and community leaders to make this parade a reality, and we look forward to a successful Pride celebration in a few short weeks,” Rob Hill, the group’s Mississippi director, said in a statement. 

The Daily News reported that some had voiced concerns that the parade would feature explicit content ― fears that Sistrunk was quick to dispel.

“They’re going to have a parade, it’s going to be a celebration and I don’t expect anything to fall into lewd or illegal behavior,” Sistrunk said.

The Associated Press noted that the three aldermen who voted against the parade did not explain their opposition. 

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