Eddie Outlaw, a Jackson hair salon owner, displays the stickers he has distributed to others in a show of support for gay and lesbian customers, on April 22, 2014, outside his business in Jackson, Miss.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP

Mississippi’s largest city embraces LGBT equality

Two months after Mississippi passed its “religious freedom” law, which many feel makes it easier for businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples, the state’s largest city has embraced a message of equality.

By a vote of 3-1, the Jackson City Council approved a resolution Tuesday affirming the equality of its LGBT residents. The move follows similar resolutions passed in cities across the state, including Bay St. Louis, Greenville, Hattiesburg, Magnolia, Oxford and Starkville, which became the first city to formally stand up for LGBT equality last January.

“It’s important for the city of Jackson to stand with other cities in the state on this issue,” said Councilman Melvin Priester Jr, who co-authored the resolution, according to The Clarion-Ledger. “I want Jackson to look back and be able to say it was on the right side of history, especially when the Starkvilles and the cities in the north and on the coast have already adopted this.”

Though the resolution is non-binding, it does officially declare Jackson’s commitment to non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In other states, LGBT advocates have also opted for a more local approach to fighting discrimination when conservative legislatures prove resistant to such efforts. In Michigan, for example, 32 municipalities currently protect gay and transgender people from discrimination, while no protections exist at the state level.

Mississippi became the first state to successfully pass a “religious freedom” law last April, amid an uproar over the recent push to enact similar measures in more than a dozen legislatures. Many of the bills allow business owners to deny services to gay and lesbian couples if they claim a sincere religious objection to homosexuality. Supporters insist that the legislation is purely aimed at protecting religious freedom; but LGBT advocates see it as a license to discriminate, and a transparent attempt at blocking the rapid advancement of gay rights across the country.

Almost immediately after Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law, Mississipians began to push back. As part of the “If You’re Buying, We’re Selling Campaign,” hundreds of businesses displayed stickers reading, “We don’t discriminate,” to make abundantly clear that all potential customers – including gays and lesbians – were welcome.