Equality Mississippi
MottoWorking for Equal Rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Mississippians
FormationMarch 15, 2000
HeadquartersClinton, Mississippi

Equality Mississippi is a statewide gay civil rights organization founded March 15, 2000 in Mississippi.

History[edit | edit source]

Founding[edit | edit source]

Equality Mississippi came about in response to the murder of Jamie Ray Tolbert,[1] a Laurel, Mississippi native and friend of Equality Mississippi founder and current executive director Jody Renaldo. The organization's founding also was the result of activists fighting state legislation banning same sex couples in Mississippi from adopting children.[2]

Jamie was a gay man visiting the now defunct Biloxi, Mississippi gay nightclub Joey's On The Beach on New Year's Eve 1999. That night, he was abducted from the bar's parking lot. His body was later found in the woods in Alabama. He was beaten and strangled to death. His killers, Brent David Kabat and Jeremy Shawn Bentley, were arrested 2 weeks later after being stopped at a roadblock in California. They were still driving Jamie's Nissan Xterra.

The organization's original name was Mississippi Gay Lobby as it was the first chapter of the now defunct National Gay Lobby. National Gay Lobby took a new approach to activism, being an "online only" gay rights organization using its membership to send activism e-mails, letters to the editor and forum postings. After a year of being a chapter of National Gay Lobby, the state chapter became independent, still keeping their name, because it felt the need to be active beyond the confines of the internet.

Notable events[edit | edit source]

The organization made national and international news by debuting a very rare and first ever in Mississippi, television advertisement campaign designed to bring homosexuality out of the Mississippi "closet". The advertisements were aired on local cable system advertising buys on such channels as MTV, Lifetime and CNN.

It was in September 2001, that the organization changed its name to Equality Mississippi. The change came from numerous calls by lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight people who felt the original name did not include them. Calls either to change the name to Mississippi Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight (LGBTS) Lobby or to something fully inclusive created a robust unification of LGBTS people in Mississippi. While it may seem that "Equality Mississippi" is quite an oxymoron, the name was fitting and inline with names of other state organizations across the country.

File:Gay rights marcher in Jackson Mississippi.jpg

A gay rights activist at the state capitol building in Jackson; July 2006.
Photo by:Allstarecho

In 2002, along with the historic Sister Spirit, Inc. and the gay-straight student organization of the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), Equality Mississippi held the Mississippi State LGBT Summit. This week-end brought together activists from national LGBT rights organizations such as Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, as well as LGBTS Mississippians to learn and grow the movement for equality in Mississippi. The Summit is now an annual event, save for 2005 when the event had to be canceled due to Hurricane Katrina having struck Mississippi.

As a result of the Summit, Mississippi celebrated LGBT Pride statewide for the first time since 1979. 150+ people attended Mississippi Pride at Smith Park in downtown Jackson.

In 2003, the United States Supreme Court struck down Texas state law banning private consensual sex between adults of the same sex in a decision gay rights groups hail as historic.[3] The ruling invalidates other sodomy laws in the remaining states that had them, including Mississippi. Equality Mississippi wrote part of the historic argument against sodomy laws.[4]

In 2004, Mississippi voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The amendment also prohibits Mississippi from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states, where it may be legal.[5] Equality Mississippi lead a coalition of statewide organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi, Mississippi Gay & Lesbian Alliance and Sister Spirit, Inc. in fighting the amendment. No national organizations such as Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Lambda Legal became involved, chalking it up as a "lost cause".

Equality Mississippi and the American Family Association[edit | edit source]

Equality Mississippi has often "taken on" the American Family Association (AFA), being that they are both based in Mississippi, with the AFA's world headquarters being in Tupelo.

The statewide LGBT civil rights organization called for an investigation by federal authorities in August 2000 of the AFA and its director Donald Wildmon after the AFA sent out emails and letters calling for the arrest of openly gay Arizona Republican United States House of Representatives member Jim Kolbe. At the time, Kolbe was scheduled to speak at the upcoming Republican National Convention on the topic of foreign policy, and did so. The AFA said that because Kolbe is gay, he was violating an Arizona law that banned sodomy. Equality Mississippi felt that the AFA's action were constituting and encouraging violence towards the gay community.[6]

Just a little more than a year later, in August 2001, the LGBT rights organization blasted the AFA for their boycott against the Girl Scouts of America. The AFA boycott of the GSA was because the GSA does not ban lesbian scouts or lesbian scout leaders. Equality Mississippi felt the AFA's actions of promoting American Heritage Girls as the "Christian alternative" to the GSA was because of the still-ongoing boycott against the Boy Scouts of America for their still-ongoing actions of banning gay scouts and gay scout leaders.[7]

In 2005, Equality Mississippi publicly called out the AFA for the use of copyrighted images in its boycott against Kraft Foods. The AFA sent out an email that contained a link to pictures on its own web site, pictures the AFA said showed exactly what Kraft Foods was supporting as a sponsor of the 2005 Gay Games in Chicago. The pictures were owned by, and came from, the web site ChrisGeary.com. ChrisGeary.com representatives said they were not informed of the AFA's plan nor did they give, or were ever asked for, permission to use the photos. Equality Mississippi encouraged ChrisGeary.com to file suit against the AFA for their theft and violation of copyright.[8]

In September 2001, Equality Mississippi executive director Jody Renaldo likened post-9/11 comments by the AFA and other conservative Christian people and organizations, as being "equal to America having its own domestic Taliban". The AFA, along with several other organizations including the Family Research Council (FRC) sent out stinging press releases, accusing LGBT equality organizations and activists of trying to sneak LGBT legislation past the American public while their heads were turned in mourning for the nation due to the events of 9/11 just two weeks earlier. This was in regards to the Washington D.C. government working to pass same-sex union legislation. The AFA press releases followed comments by Reverend Jerry Falwell and Reverend Pat Robertson on a The 700 Club broadcast in which Falwell blamed gays and lesbians, among other classes of Americans, for the then-recent terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., and in which Robertson agreed with.[9]

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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