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Gay pride allowed

Leaders of a Mississippi college town voted Tuesday to permit a gay pride parade, reversing a previous denial and moving to defuse a lawsuit alleging discrimination and free speech violations.

Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill broke a 3-3 tie to allow the parade to go forward, after an alderman who previously had opposed the parade abstained, saying the city needed to move past the dispute. Aldermen had voted 4-3 to reject the application last month.

The parade will be held March 24.

Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk had moved Friday to put the issue back before the city board. Tuesday, she said it was important to not treat the application for the city's first gay pride parade differently from any other application.

"I think we're in a position where we can make a more measured and reasoned vote tonight," Sistrunk said. "This has been a bit of a growing pain for the city of Starkville."

The revote came after a community group called Starkville Pride and two organizers filed a federal lawsuit, saying the city had denied their constitutional rights to free expression and equal protection. They asked a judge to overrule the city and immediately grant a parade permit to Starkville Pride. The judge has not yet acted on the lawsuit.

"What happened at tonight's meeting was a victory not only for our clients and for their equal dignity under the law, but also for the core principle that in this country, we do not restrict a person's ability to speak based on whether or not we agree with what they have to say," said Roberta Kaplan, lawyer for Starkville Pride and organizers Bailey McDaniel and Emily Turner.

Spruill, who doesn't normally vote on the board, had supported the parade, saying the rejection didn't reflect Starkville's diversity and welcoming attitude. She got the chance to cast the deciding vote after Alderman David Little said he maintained his "principled position" but would abstain.

"I believe the city of Starkville's interests are better served in moving forward beyond this and pressing forward on other positive matters facing our community," Little said.



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