Thousands marched through the streets of Starkville, Mississippi, on Saturday for the town's first-ever LGBT Pride parade. Making the event all the more poignant is that it almost didn't happen.
Despite widespread support, including from Mayor Lynn Spruill, the Starkville Board of Aldermen voted 4-3 last month to deny organizers a special permit to host the parade. The event posed no security or logistical problems, but council members gave no reason for the denial. (One local, Dorothy Isaac, did warn the event would turn Starkville “into a sin city.”)
“We wanted to have a day of celebration and inclusiveness,” said Mississippi State University student Bailey McDaniel, who organized the parade with Emily Turner. “Without explanation or warning, a whole community of people have been denied their constitutional rights.”
After national headlines and the threat of a civil-rights lawsuit, a board member changed his "no" vote to an abstention, leading to a tie which Mayor Suruill broke in favor of allowing the procession.
In all, more than 2,500 people marched in Saturday's event, making it the largest parade ever in the town of 25,000.
About 10 to 15 sign-carrying protestors picketed the parade, organized by the Consuming Fire Fellowship in Gloster, more than three hours away. Jordan Williams said he made the long trip to protest because "God hates sin and God hates sodomy."
But they were drowned out by the waves of participants and supporters, carrying balloon, signs and rainbow flags. “I never expected to have this many people,” Mayor Spruill told the Starkville Daily News. "This would never have happened if we didn’t have the controversy, so I’m almost grateful for the controversy, in the sense that it became something more than it ever would have been. And it became something we can be very proud of.”