Arts & Culture

She wanted to stand up for LGBT people in Mississippi. Her sign became a rallying cry.

Ann Madden is a photographer, artist and co-owner of Smith & Lens, an art gallery in downtown Bay St. Louis. She also spearheaded a local action to make LGBTQ people feel welcome after HB 1523 passed in Mississippi.
Ann Madden is a photographer, artist and co-owner of Smith & Lens, an art gallery in downtown Bay St. Louis. She also spearheaded a local action to make LGBTQ people feel welcome after HB 1523 passed in Mississippi. amccoy@sunherald.com

Ann Madden believes she gets too much credit for making a sign.

The photographer, artist and co-owner of Smith & Lens gallery in Old Town Bay St. Louis wanted to do something about House Bill 1523, Mississippi's "religious freedom" bill, being signed into law almost two years ago by Gov. Phil Bryant.

HB 1523 allows businesses to legally deny service to LGBTQ people because of religious preference.

Madden used birthday money from her aunt to design and print signs for businesses to hang in the windows that said "All Are Welcome Here!"

Pretty soon, the red and gold signs were popping up in just about every window in Bay St. Louis. Madden's grassroots campaign to combat hate took off before the national media got involved, and before regional campaigns geared up to call for the bill's removal.

Madden hoped people would take the signs, and they were gone before she knew it.

"We shouldn't have to hang it, but the fact that people wanted to was great," Madden said during an interview for "Out Here in America," a podcast by the Sun Herald and McClatchy that explores what it's like being LGBTQ in the Deep South and in other rural areas in America's heartland. You can subscribe now on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

"People should know that they're welcome, but I was worried that they wouldn't and that's not representative of me."

Madden, a native of New Orleans, never thought she'd live in a small Mississippi town, but she and her husband fell in love with Bay St. Louis and have made it home with their two daughters, Ava and Gigi.

"This place has this thing where anybody is up for anything it seems," like dressing up and trespassing for a cool photo shoot or celebrating Dolly Parton with a day dedicated to the country singer's birthday, drag queens and all, Madden said.

Bay St. Louis' Second Saturday celebration became Dolly Should this year in hopes to get the country music great to visit their city next year for her birthday.



She doesn't think her sign is a big deal, but her efforts to support LGBTQ people matter to those affected by laws like HB 1523.

For host Justin Mitchell, Ann is one of the reasons why he wanted to move back to Bay St. Louis.

In this episode, you'll hear:

  • Why Ann decided to use her birthday money to combat hate
  • Why she thinks Mississippi is "equal parts disappointing and amazing"
  • How the role of small businesses fits into the protection of LGBTQ rights in Mississippi

Have an idea for "Out Here in America?" Send your suggestions to Justin Mitchell.

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