Throwing Shade

How do you live in the state you love when Mississippi doesn’t love you back?

My boyfriend and I try to spend every Sunday together.

It’s the only day of the week that we’re both free to be with each other. Alec is a teacher, and I’m a journalist. His days start really early, and he’s usually asleep by the time I get home. I’ll often sleep on the couch with our puppy as to not wake him.

On Saturdays, he works as a server at popular restaurant in Pass Christian. He only works the dinner shift, but I often leave our apartment much earlier because I photograph weddings most Saturdays.

We use the extra cash from our side hustles to sometimes pay bills but often buy pieces of art we like from local galleries. Alec’s mom joked over Christmas that we could probably start charging admission for our at-home gallery.

We have a Sunday ritual that works well for us. We wake up early and play with Scout, our rat terrier mix who has a really big personality and love of peanut butter, socks and playing fetch. Then we drive to our favorite breakfast spot, The Mockingbird Cafe in Old Town Bay St. Louis, and get lattes and biscuits and gravy.

Before we head to the grocery store, Alec and I spend the rest of the afternoon peeking into shops in Old Town, driving to Pass Christian for lunch or driving around looking at houses we can’t afford and daydreaming about the future.

Just this past Sunday, we had hot drinks at Cat Island Coffeehouse and envisioned how we could replicate the building for our future home if we could find a cheap lot that wasn’t in a flood zone.

Alec is from New Jersey and lived in the Mississippi Delta for two years before moving to the Coast. He loves it in my hometown of Bay St. Louis. I’ve not really lived anywhere else for an extended period of time, other than going off to college.

I ask Alec all the time if he wants to move.

“Seriously, make me a list of places you’d consider moving to if the time, career and money were right.”

He hands me the same list every time:

  • Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
  • Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
  • Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Sometimes he throws in Pass Christian for good measure.

I felt the same way as Alec for a long time. I love my city. The people are some of the best in the world. There’s art everywhere you look. The food is amazing. The drive over the Bay St. Louis bridge at sunset is one of the prettiest sites in the world. And my whole life is here.

But I don’t feel the same way anymore.

When House Bill 1523 came to the public’s attention more than a year ago, I wrote a blog saying I wouldn’t leave home, because this piece of discrimination against the LGBTQ community did not define the people who lived here, the people that I knew.

HB 1523 was tossed out. Then it came back into play. Now, the Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of it. So, for now, the “religious freedom” bill is law of the land.

I’ve been fighting. My community has been fighting. But at what point do you cut your losses and move on? I love my state so much and the people in it, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that this state doesn’t love me back.

Gov. Phil Bryant did not listen to thousands of residents and business owners who didn’t want House Bill 1523. He defended it to its core.

When I graduated college in 2012, Bryant spoke, and he was genuine when he pleaded to millennials to stay in Mississippi and find a job. Don’t leave home, he begged.

I didn’t leave home. But at this point, what do you do when the only place you’ve known as home makes you feel like a second-class citizen? Where do you go? What’s next?

I’m hopeful that HB 1523 is something that won’t be around forever. But do I want to wait around to see how the cards unfold?

Justin Mitchell: 228-604-0705, @JustinMitchell_

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