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Pride organizers in Starkville, Miss., today filed a federal lawsuit over the city's denial of a permit for a the group's parade.
The city's Board of Aldermen voted last week to deny the permit, even though many townspeople supported holding a Pride parade and there were apparently no problems with cost, logistics, or security surrounding the event.
"The Board's decision to ban speech by Starkville Pride on city streets is a textbook violation of the First Amendment, and its discriminatory treatment, based solely on LGBT-related animus, violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause," Pride organizers said in a press release announcing the lawsuit, Starkville Pride et. al. v. City of Starkville, filed Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, Eastern Division.
"We wanted to have a day of celebration and inclusiveness," said Bailey McDaniel, president of Starkville Pride, in the release. "Without explanation or warning, a whole community of people have been denied their constitutional rights. We would like to believe that this type of hateful, intolerant behavior does not represent the Starkville community and we hope that the decision will be reversed." McDaniel attends Mississippi State University, located in Starkville, as do several other Pride organizers.
Starkville Pride is represented by Roberta Kaplan, who successfully represented Edie Windsor before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case that struck down a major portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. "Based solely on the content of their speech, specifically the fact that they take pride in being gay, these students are being denied their right to speak in a public forum," said Kaplan, founding partner of Kaplan & Co., in the release. "We are confident that the federal court will reverse this unconstitutional action and allow the parade to proceed as planned."
It is rare for Starkville officials to deny a special event permit. In virtually every instance for which detailed records are publicly available (a total of 88 applications from 2010 to 2018), the board addressed the application without public comment or deliberation. Between 2014 and 2018, every permit application before this one was approved.
When the Board of Aldermen considered Starkville Pride's permit application last week, 16 people spoke in favor of it and two against. But the aldermen voted 4-3 to reject the application. None of those who voted no gave a reason, and three of them left the meeting room through a rear entrance, according to local news reports.