Thousands of people have marched in the first-ever gay pride parade in the Mississippi city of Starkville after local officials initially tried to block it.
Despite widespread support, including from the city’s mayor Lynn Spruill, the Starkville Board of Aldermen voted 4-3 last month to deny parade organisers a permit to host the event.
But after media attention and threat of a lawsuit, a board member changed his “no” vote to an abstention which led to a tie that Mayor Suruill broke in favor of allowing the march.
Between 2,500 and 3,000 people marched in the event on Saturday, according to Mayor Spruill.
“I never expected to have this many people,” she told the Starkville Daily News.
“This would never have happened if we didn’t have the controversy, so I’m almost grateful for the controversy, in the sense that it became something more than it ever would have been. And it became something we can be very proud of.”
Mississippi State University students Bailey McDaniel and Emily Turner organised the parade, and told the publication the goal 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.”
Campaign for Southern Equality director Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara said the Starkville pride parade is “a testament to the strength and courage of the Starkville LGBTQ community.”
“They wouldn’t take no for an answer and then went on to organize the largest parade ever in Starkville,” she told NBC News.
“The reality is that LGBTQ people live in every town across Mississippi, and we will keep fighting until they are fully equal and free from discriminatory treatment.”