Harrison County

Everyone deserves ‘respect and dignity,’ says Coast judge speaking at Pride event

Chancery Court Judge Margaret Alfonso is showing her support for the LGBTQ community by accepting an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the Third Annual Pride Day scheduled Saturday in Biloxi.

The free Pride Month event has grown each year. Proud Together is the theme of this year’s event because organizers want everyone to feel welcome, whether they are members of the LGBTQ community or supporters.

Alfonso said longtime friend Walter Pitts, who is on the Pride board and recently retired from the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office, asked her to speak.

“When I’m asked to speak at something like this, I don’t wing it,” Alfonso said. “I do a lot of research.” Alfonso said she was surprised by some of the statistics she plans to share about the problems LGBTQ youth face, both at home and in school.

A Youth Court judge for eight years, she said that she has always been interested in issues affecting young people.

“I’m interested in a safe space for anybody to congregate and be together,” she said. “My sense of things is that there’s a growing recognition that everyone in America deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. And that’s why I’m participating.”

She said she also thinks people are growing more supportive of “freedom of gender expression.”

Her friend Pitts is gay, but that’s not something he shared when he went to work in 1982 for the sheriff’s department.

“You had to hide who you were,” Pitts said. “For 35 years, most of that, I stayed in the closet at work because I was in government.”

Pitts never came out, but many of his co-workers figured things out on their own.

“People came up to me and said, ‘Walter, we don’t care. Just be you and do your job.’

“I always kept my personal life and my professional life separate. There are so many gay people in law enforcement.”

Pitts retired as a captain from the sheriff’s department in 2018.

The event is for everyone, Pitts said, including family members and supporters of the LGBTQ community.

If you plan to go

The Third Annual Pride Day runs from noon-6 p.m. Saturday at Point Cadet Plazan, 121 Cadet St., on the eastern tip of Biloxi.

The nonprofit Gulf Coast Association of Pride sponsors Pride Day.

50 vendor booths will offer information, food, and arts and crafts.

Entertainment includes DJ Dolla Bill from New Orleans, the Rewind Band with Johnny Fung and Lady Patrice, the Blackwater Brass Band and drag performances hosted by Mercedes Alexander.

While the event is free, GCAP welcomes contributions with the ultimate goal of building a one-stop resource center focused on LGBTQ issues, community and supporters. Donate here or mail a contribution to P.O. Box 828 Biloxi, MS 39533.