JACKSON, Miss. – Two women sued in a Mississippi college town Monday about the refusal of a permit for a gay pride parade, saying the city had denied their constitutional right of free speech and equal protection.
Mississippi State University students Bailey McDaniel and Emily Turner filed the federal lawsuit Monday against the city of Starkville, asks a judge to rise above the city and the immediate granting of a parade permit to Starkville Pride.
“The city is prohibited plaintiffs from speaking in a public forum, just because the disagree with the position and the content of the speech,” says the lawsuit, filed in Aberdeen, Mississippi. “That hostility to their message was inextricably linked with the hostility of their LGBT identity and pro-LGBT advocacy.”
City councillors had voted 4-3 last week to deny the parade permit requested for the city’s first gay pride parade as part of a larger set of events. The four councillors have refused to say why they made the decision, although one told a local newspaper that his voters agree with the move.
Mayor Lynn Spruill, who supported the parade, but not vote in the Board of Aldermen, said Monday that the city will study the lawsuit and then respond.
Thanks to the university, Starkville is more cosmopolitan and diverse than many Mississippi towns.
Turner said that the weekend was intended as a showcase of LGBT people’s place in the community.
“For us, I think Starkville Pride is a way to celebrate the diversity of Starkville,” Turner said last week. “It is a very diverse and accepting community. It also goes to show that we’re here.”
But Starkville also has a recent history of a public controversy about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. In 2015, aldermen repealed a resolution that made Starkville the first city in Mississippi to denounce discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The same day, authorities also repealed a city health insurance policy that allowed employees to assure partners of the same sex. The same-sex marriage was legalized later that year nationwide by the Supreme court of the V. S.
The lawsuit says McDaniel and Turner were alerted by a unnamed city employee who helped them fill out their application that they have to keep LGBT-related content “under the radar” if they wanted the approval of the aldermen. All four aldermen who voted against the parade application also voted for repeal of the two LGBT-related items in 2015, and have since been re-elected.
The suit also states that councillors cannot act on a permissible reason for denying the permit, and says the judge must assume that they agreed with the two people who spoke against the permit citing religious opposition. Sixteen people spoke in favor.
The lawsuit says had in Starkville approved 55 straight special events applications in the past few years, usually without discussion, emphasize that Starkville is Proud authorisation was treated differently although it does not present any unusual problems.
“This difference in the process is strong evidence of position bias,” the lawsuit states.
Roberta Kaplan is the lead attorney for McDaniel and Turner. She has conducted other gay-rights cases in the state, including a challenge, so far not successful, a law that allows the government, workers and business people cite religious objections to refuse services to LGBT people.
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