I could say a lot of negative things about Mississippi, having been born there which gives me the right, but most of my rants would be meaningless, having not lived there past the age of six months old. But we all know that Mississippi is the home of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the If You’re Buying, We’re Selling counterpoint to that religious-based anti-LGBT discrimination.
So, you know, it’s good and bad in ole Miss.
Still, there was a bit more of the good last weekend as the 300+ University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast graduates walked across the stage of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum with many of them adorning their black gowns with the Rainbow Ribbon.
Yes. Rainbows. In Mississippi.
The ribbons were worn as a representation of equal rights for the LGBT community, which is something that the commencement speaker, Congressman Steven Palazzo, has often spoken about, in disdain. Most notably, after last January’s Grammy Awards, where several same-sex and opposite-sex marriages were performed live on TV, Palazzo took to his Facebook page to post his disgust:
"Hollywood doesn't value the same conservative beliefs we do in Mississippi."
But last Saturday many USM students and graduates begged to differ. Sarah Ladner, vice-president of the student social work organization, said the ribbons were used to show Steven Palazzo how many of the students, graduates, as well as faculty members, who pinned the ribbons to their gowns, disagreed with his outdated viewpoint.
"I feel as if Mr. Palazzo's response regarding the civil rights of gay and lesbian people in our state encourages the continued oppression of our students, faculty, and constituents of Mississippi. This was our opportunity to show how we felt. In speaking as if his values represented all Mississippians, he undermined his LGBT constituents and their straight allies. The flurry of negative comments on his Facebook page and other websites also showed that he underestimated just how many Mississippians do not share his beliefs."—Sarah Ladner
The ribbons weren’t the only attempt to remind Steven Palazzo that many USM graduates did not share his views; a petition drive had also been organized to try and remove Palazzo as speaker, though it was unsuccessful.
During his commencement speech, Palazzo did not mention the ribbons, but their presence was felt.
It’s a new Mississippi, and it’s trying to change.