US city faces lawsuit after banning Pride parade

TOPSHOT - Participants take part in the annual Gay Pride parade in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, on June 9, 2017. Tens of thousands of revellers from Israel and abroad packed the streets of Tel Aviv for the city's annual Gay Pride march, billed as the Middle East's biggest. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

A city in Mississippi is facing a lawsuit – after banning an LGBT Pride event.

Local politicians in Starkville, Mississippi – which has a population of 25,000 – had voted to deny an application from a local LGBT group to hold a Pride event in the city.

Just two locals had objected to plans for the parade, which was set to take place on March 24, but the conservative-controlled Board of Aldermen swiftly passed a motion to block the plans.

Four Aldermen – Roy A. Perkins, Ben Carver, David Little and Henry Vaughn voted down the proposals, while, three – Sandra Sistrunk, Jason Walker and Patrick Miller – voted to support the parade.

The decision to block the event from going ahead has led to condemnation from civil rights groups – as well as legal action.

Strangely, Republicans who often defend the ‘free speech’ of people to discriminate against gay couples have been entirely silent on the row.

But attorney Roberta Kaplan, a seasoned defender of LGBT rights who previously took an equal marriage fight to the Supreme Court, has confirmed she is representing Starkville Pride and the group’s organiser Bailey McDaniel.

Speaking to the Starkville Daily News, Kaplan said: “It’s pretty clear to us that what the town did here was a blatant and overt violation of the First Amendment.

“You can’t deny people the right to speak publicly based on the contents of their speech.

“We intend to be very prompt. We absolutely are going to do something to get this overturned.”

ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Jennifer Riley-Collins added: “The ACLU of Mississippi calls upon the city of Starkville to act swiftly in approving a request from a grassroots group planning to host the city’s first Pride Parade on March 24.

“The Starkville Board of Aldermen’s recent denial of the request potentially violates the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

“The government cannot prevent a parade or event simply because it promotes LGBTQ pride or because its organizers and marchers are LGBTQ. In addition, the government cannot treat people unequally because they are LGBTQ.

“This is exactly what the Board of Alderman did, and that is discrimination, plain and simple. It also violates the Constitution.

“It is disappointing and disturbing that the Starkville Board of Alderman would decide to treat LGBTQ people differently from everyone else. The ACLU of Mississippi, therefore, urges the Starkville Board of Alderman to reconsider their decision and approve the request.”

Mississippi is one of seven states that continues to prohibit teachers in publicly-funded schools from discussing LGBT issues in the classroom

So-called ‘no promo homo’ laws are on the statute books in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas.