Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mississippi's only LGBT rights organization closes

Equality Mississippi, the only LGBT civil rights organization in the state published the following statement Friday announcing it was terminating operations (edited):

It's with sadness and regret that we must inform you that due to financial reasons, the Board of Directors of Equality Mississippi voted to bring an end to Equality Mississippi. You may have already noticed our main web site gone and our phone disconnected. This is the reason.

Equality Mississippi, formed in March 2000 under the name Mississippi Gay Lobby, was the result of gay, lesbian and straight Mississippians coming together to lift a united fist and raise a united voice against the oppression and hatred of gay and lesbian Mississippians. On New Years Eve 1999/2000, Jamie Ray Tolbert was kidnapped from Joey's On The Beach, a gay bar in Biloxi at the time. He was beaten and strangled to death and his body was thrown out in the woods in Alabama. He was a close friend of Equality Mississippi founder and director Jody Renaldo. Jody's anger at the lack of equality in Mississippi and his hurt from his friend having been murdered, propelled him to finally stop being an arm-chair activist. He began assembling other Mississippians, regardless of sexual orientation or color or religious beliefs, that believed in basic dignity and equality for ALL human beings. And Mississippi Gay Lobby, now known as Equality Mississippi, was born.

While Equality Mississippi has always been a political gay and lesbian rights organization - meaning we didn't organize social events and parties, we were usually walking the hallways of the State Capitol building trying to educate the elected un-educated - the Board feels that now is the time for a revolution in the gay and lesbian realm in Mississippi. It's time for other people with passion and fire to come out of the closet and take on this fight.

Those of us that have been with Equality Mississippi for the entire 8 years, are of course feeling somber but we do have good memories of battles won (and no so good memories of battles lost). It was Equality Mississippi that publicly took on SkyTel and eventually got them to stop purchasing advertising during the queen of homophobia's radio show, the queen being "Dr." Laura Schlessinger. SkyTel is somewhat meaningless these days but back then, they were an MCI Worldcom company, big and well known in paging as AT&T is now known in cell phones. Then there is of course our many battles with Tupelo, Mississippi based American Family Association. We even got them to apologize once. Amazing! Our work with former state representative Erik Fleming saw an annual introduction of a bill that would have added "sexual orientation" to Mississippi's current hate crimes law. We've held protests from Gulfport to Oxford, Vicksburg to Meridian and many places in between.

At any rate, we just wanted to say to you: THANK YOU! Thank you for 8 years of putting your most treasured of belongings in our care: that being your right to live freely as the human being you are.


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