Jackson County

Newbies, getting the hang of picketing, shout 'no hate in this state'

BILOXI -- Protesting was new to people who picketed Friday at the Biloxi Visitors Center to show not all Mississippians support the new so-called "Religious Freedom" law.

Those gathered did get the hang of it, and by 5 p.m., the 40 people carrying signs were chanting "No hate in this state" to the traffic going by on U.S. 90.

Overall, it wasn't confrontational, but Wanda Bingham of Gulfport got passionate at one point, shouting to the crowd, "Mississippi needs help with our own government . We are in distress here in Mississippi . We shouldn't still be talking about our constitutional rights and civil rights here in 2016 . We are in desperate need of assistance from the federal government."

The new law, which Gov. Phil Bryant signed this week, allows businesses to discriminate against customers and employees based on religious views about sex and sexual orientation.

The backlash nationwide has been quick and severe, and is expected to increase. Mayors on the Coast have talked about rallying on the issue. What it will do to tourism and the state image are all part of the mix.

Bethany Fayard said people need to be educated about the bill.

"People are learning what this law means by Facebook memes," she said. "People think it's about not baking cakes for a gay wedding. But it's more than that. It affects anyone who's (having sex but) not in a straight, legal marriage. How many straight men would have approved of this law if they knew they could be fired for an extramarital affair?"

Debra Maranto said she was a little nervous, this being her first public protest of any kind, but she needed to come.

She said she struggled for 30 years to get her family to accept her and recently, her father walked her down the aisle for her same-sex wedding.

Now this. She learned about the law on Facebook.

"I feel like I've gone one step forward and two steps back with this mess," she said.

John McAnally was at the protest. He said he was doing it as a citizen.

"I went to my first same-sex wedding three weeks ago and they were happy," he said. "I think all people should be able to be happy in their own right."

Another picketer pointed out it wasn't just the governor signing the bill that made it law. It passed the Legislature with lawmakers from the Coast voting for it.

Kerious Jefferson, 5, and Kemyrah Jefferson, 6, held signs that said "God Loves All," while they were shouting "Blow your horn!" to the traffic passing by.

Organizer Susan Guice said she was pleased with the turnout. She did not see herself as an activist, but she was dismayed no one was protesting, so she called for the rally on Facebook.

"We're doing this so the nation will see that we don't approve," she told the Sun Herald. "I don't want people to think we all agree here. A law that says we can discriminate against a whole group of people, that's just wrong."

"I'm just hoping someone takes the next step and does something bigger, like a march down U.S. 90," Guice said, "a big thing with lots of people, so people won't be so afraid."

Related stories from Biloxi Sun Herald