Organizers today cancelled the 37th Annual Mississippi Picnic in Central Park, saying it would not happen this year due to passage of House Bill 1523. The picnic was planned for Saturday, June 11, Noon to 5:00 pm in Central Park at 5th Avenue and 72nd Street. The theme of the 2016 picnic was to be “Nothing but the Blues,” as a tribute to B. B. King.
The New York Mississippi Society organizes the picnic, which has been a huge promotional and networking opportunity that draws together Mississippi natives living in New York City and tourism and other business officials who travel there for the picnic.
A woman who answered the phone at the number posted on the website promoting the picnic earlier today said that an update would be posted on the website soon.
Mississippi Development Authority spokesman Jeff Rent said today, via email, that the State and MDA were not consulted in advance of the decision, which came from the organizers based in New York. "The New York Mississippi Society has made the decision to cancel the Mississippi Picnic in Central Park. We are disappointed in not only their decision, but also their lack of discussion with Mississippi partners before cancelling the event," Rent wrote.
Two years ago, famed Oxford chef and restaurateur John Currence and Ole Miss students brought a pro-LGBT message to Central Park after Gov. Bryant signed the earlier, but less odious religious-freedom act.
A petition had urged New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and others to stop the picnic in Central park after the passage of House Bill 1523.
The website states:
Faster than a New York minute, we can tell you one thing, Mississippi should not be proud, nor does it deserve to celebrate their State in this park if they don't share New York’s values of diversity, inclusion and mutual respect.
The official website for the picnic lists their mission as "To preserve the culture and heritage of the state of Mississippi." The "heritage" of Mississippi has no business being on full display in the cathedral of parks in New York City. Mississippi has routinely been on the wrong side of history and once again in 2016, the state passes legislation that puts members of the LGBTQ community at risk. At an event of this nature, Mississippi wants to claim the literary great in native son Tennessee Williams, a gay man, who if alive today could now be legally denied a meal in an Oxford restaurant because the owner didn't approve of his sexual orientation.
The front page of the website promoting the picnic changed dramatically in the last half hour, from the top image here to the bottom one:
UPDATE: The Copiah County Courier has a copy of a press statement from the picnic organizers posted. Here is is verbatim:
Annual New York - Mississippi Picnic Cancelled Event was scheduled for June 11 in Central Park
We, the founders of the Mississippi Picnic in Central Park and the New York-Mississippi Society, are officially canceling this year's picnic in its 37th year.
As a result of the unfortunate adoption of House Bill 1523, we have been informed that several concerned groups in New York City intend to demonstrate in protest of the passage of this law. Due to the controversy, the protests, and our own intensely felt dismay over HB 1523, we deeply regret that the Mississippi Picnic cannot go forward.
Our mission back in 1980 was to showcase a positive image of the state of Mississippi, and over the past 36 years, we have celebrated such cultural icons as writer Tennessee Williams, food critic Craig Claiborne, and opera singer, Leontyne Price. This year we were planning to honor the great blues musician, B.B.King.
For almost four decades, The Mississippi Picnic in Central Park has consistently celebrated the best of Mississippi, without regard to race, religion, or gender orientation. We took pride in sharing our rich heritage and diversity with the rest of the world through these annual gatherings. Any law such as HB 1523 that discriminates against even a single member of our community cannot be tolerated, and therefore we have decided to stand up for all Mississippians by canceling the 2016 picnic in the park.
Respectfully, The Founders: Ron Carter Vicki Carter Rachel McPherson Diane Wiltshire
Read more about the fight for LGBT rights, including HB 1523, in Mississippi here.