State Politics

Mississippi LGBTs, Democrats revile Bryant, 'religious freedom' law

ROGELIO V. SOLIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS 
 Protesters call for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to veto House Bill 1523, which they say will allow discrimination against LGBT people, during a rally outside the Governor's Mansion in Jackson on Monday. He signed the bill the next day.
ROGELIO V. SOLIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS Protesters call for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to veto House Bill 1523, which they say will allow discrimination against LGBT people, during a rally outside the Governor's Mansion in Jackson on Monday. He signed the bill the next day. AP

Mississippi's image as the Hospitality State was damaged today when the governor signed House Bill 1523 into law, said a Coast gay rights activist who's also a state Democratic Party official.

"As long as I've been around, Mississippi has been known as the hospitality state," said Renick Taylor of Biloxi. "Passing hate legislation like HB 1523 and flying the flag of human bondage as our state flag is not hospitable.

"It's repulsive. Mississippi has an image problem the likes of which RuPaul couldn't make over. If the Gulf Coast wants the tourist dollars to flow in from around the world it's going to have to show the world a welcoming face instead of the hate face we are showing them now. We can still be the hospitality state, but not like this."

Supporters of the bill say it protects people with deeply held religious beliefs from lawsuits by people they refuse to serve because of those beliefs. It specifically targets lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals and anyone who has had sex outside marriage.

Opponents say it allows discrimination.

Shortly after the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act was signed, the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino posted an ad reaffirming its respect for diversity.

"We do not support the Freedom of Conscience bill," it said.

But religious leaders do.

The Tupelo-based American Family Association after Friday's vote that favored HB 1523, posted a Facebook item calling out "Mississippi House Republicans (who) sided with liberal Democrats" in opposition to the bill.

Rep. Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi, was among them.

The AFA has a long history of opposition to gays and lesbians.

"A war has erupted in this nation against the Bible unleashed by those who persist in trying to normalize homosexuality," wrote AFA Executive Vice President Ed Vitagliano on the day the bill passed the House. "The reason? Scripture -- and a church that faithfully upholds its teachings -- is the lone remaining obstacle to a secular juggernaut that is sweeping away the moral foundations of America."

It's that attitude that has members of LGBT community and others talking about leaving the state.

"I'm just disgusted," said Tony Boyette of Biloxi. "We thought maybe (Bryant) would get enough pressure from businesses that he would give it more thought than he did."

He said when a similar law was being debated in 2014, he began making plans to move his family out of the state.

"I've got two kids and this is not the kind of environment I want them in. I don't want them to think it's OK."

His destination when a daughter who is a junior in high school graduates will be Colorado, a state he views as far more tolerant than Mississippi.

"Mississippi is last in everything but hate," he said.

The Mississippi Manufacturing Association, Toyota, Nissan and the Mississippi Economic Council, which is the state's chamber of commerce, all came out against the bill to no avail.

Though the Biloxi City Council chose not to add a resolution to its Tuesday agenda, Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich did not wait and went on the record against the bill. He said he's talked with other Coast mayors, who plan to get opposition to the legislation on their agendas.

"Biloxi's affected most," he said. The city is known for its cultural diversity and hospitality. He said the act sends the wrong message.

"My message is we do not discriminate -- period," he said.

The state Republican Party has been silent since the HB 1523 debate began in earnest last week. Chairman Joe Nosef did not return a message seeking comment.

The Democrats weren't.

"It is incredibly disappointing that Governor Bryant and Republican leaders of our state, despite our history, have decided to pass a law that licenses discrimination against our own citizens," said party spokeswoman Ouida Meruvia. "Instead of tearing down walls that divide, the Republican Party has spent this session building new barriers of bigotry. We must do better."

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