After national controversy, a Mississippi town’s first Pride parade makes history

STARKVILLE — Close to 3,000 people flooded downtown Starkville on Saturday for the first LGBTQ Pride parade in the city’s history.

After grabbing national attention, the grassroots group Starkville Pride was allowed to move forward with its parade despite initially being voted down by the city’s Board of Aldermen in late February.

The group took legal action following the city’s decision to deny the event request, and after a tense few weeks, Mayor Lynn Spruill served as the tie-breaking vote to approve the event request.

Spruill has been a vocal supporter of the group and praised the turnout made possible by the high level of attention brought to the situation.

“I never expected to have this many people,” Spruill said. “Somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 people and this would never have happened if we didn’t have the controversy, so I’m almost grateful for the controversy in the sense it became something more than it ever would have been and it became something we can be very proud of, with no issues associated with it.”

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The day’s events started in the morning with a Queer Art Market in Fire Station Park, which served as a gathering place and starting point for the parade.

The group, led by organizers Bailey McDaniel and Emily Turner carrying a banner, moved through downtown in droves, with many carrying balloons, signs and singing songs.

McDaniel said the event represented something different to each individual who participated.

McDaniel and her partner Turner both had their parents come down in support of the Pride Parade, but McDaniel said many aren’t so lucky and need a community to provide support.

“Emily and I were there, and Emily’s parents came, marched in the parade, and after the parade they had ally buttons on and it just brought me to my knees,” McDaniel said. “Every other person in the parade has some kind of moment like that.”

Following the parade, McDaniel said the whole point was for everyone to feel accepted and be themselves.

“I think it sets a good vibe for what this annual event will be,” McDaniel said. “I feel like Starkville is so much better for this, and I am honored that I was able to help progress the city as far as it has.”

Starkville resident Suzanne Powney has been a supporter of the parade and said she was happy to see the community accepting others and promoting diversity.

“I was surprised at the negative, but I’m surprised how few negative people there are and how many community members I’ve seen, my friends, my family, my coworkers are all here along the parade route and it’s a wonderful feeling to celebrate,” Powney said.

While the day’s festivities went smoothly, about 10 to 15 sign-wielding protestors did show up to oppose the Pride Parade.

The protestors consisted primarily of members of the Gloster-based Consuming Fire Fellowship, which often protests LGBTQ events.

Gloster native Jordan Williams wore a yellow sign that cited 1 John 2:4 on one side and said “Jesus Must Be Your Lord Or He Will Not Be Your Savior,” on the other.

Williams made the nearly four-hour trip because he believes the Bible “condemns sodomy”

“We’re here to stand against this perversion,” Williams said. “God hates sin and God hates sodomy, it’s not a choice and they weren’t born that way, it’s a choice. So we are here to stand against it and stand with God. We’re not ashamed to stand with Jesus.”

The situation may have had its moments where conflicting ideologies were laid out in the open, but people on both sides praised the work of the Starkville Police Department to protect everyone in attendance.

“We’ve had all of the space we needed, they have protected us really well,” Williams commented.

McDaniel agreed, praising the work put in by local law enforcement to keep the peace.

“I’m thankful for Starkville Police, they were amazing,” McDaniel said. “We took a huge group photo after. Chief (Frank Nichols) was on our side.”

Spruill echoed the notion, saying the level of safety made for a smooth and memorable day of events.

“Our police were stellar, our residents came out and were very positive, and waved and shared the enjoyment of it,” Spruill said. “The people who participated had a great time. This is the biggest parade we’ve ever had in Starkville, absolute biggest.”

Rosa Dalomba, owner of The Pop Porium in downtown Starkville, has been an involved supporter of Starkville Pride, using her business to provide a place and network of support to the LGBTQ community.

“I loved it,” Dalomba said. “It was emotional. I shared tears with lots of people, people in the community, people who are just allies, parents, young people. I was all over the place.”

Dalomba said she started marching with the rest of the group near Fire Station Park and was near the end of the line. By the time she reached Main Street and downtown, she found herself in the middle of the parade.

“The fact people got behind us, it was love, it was nothing like the people out here screaming the very hateful things,” Dalomba said. “It’s beautiful. People came from all over the place.”

Dalomba also praised the business side of having so many people in downtown for the parade.

“Economically, it’s been great,” she said. “I literally ran out of product and I’ve gone back to my shop already twice. So I loved it, I’m proud to be a part of the first pride parade in Starkville. We are really moving forward.”

Originally published by the Starkville Daily News. It has been reprinted here with permission. Featured Photo by Logan Kirkland.

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