More than 200 protesters marched from the Mississippi capitol to the governor's mansion on Dec. 11 to protest the governor's appeal of House Bill 1523. Photo courtesy Nick Morrow
JACKSON More than 200 Mississippians staged a "Rally Against Hate" Sunday, demonstrating against Gov. Phil Bryant's determination that a law allowing individuals, businesses and government workers to discriminate against LGBT citizens based on their religious beliefs must go into effect.
The protesters marched from the capitol building to the governor's mansion in downtown Jackson against House Bill 1523, which Bryant and others appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled it unconstitutional on June 30, 2016.
HB 1523, or the "Religious Liberty Accommodations Act," opens up the possibility that Mississippi individuals and businesses—as well as religious organizations that serve as employers and landlords in Mississippi—could assert that their religious beliefs justify discrimination against gay, transgender and unmarried patrons.
Bryant and John Davis, the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, appealed Reeves' ruling. The appeal is getting national attention, with a group of states filing a brief in support.
Rob Hill, the state director of the Human Rights Campaign Mississippi office, said the protest was a reminder to Mississippi lawmakers that the LGBT community is not going anywhere.
"We cannot be silent, and we won't be, and this is a reminder to our legislators and to our statewide elected leaders like the lieutenant governor and governor that we have not gone anywhere," Hill told the Jackson Free Press after the rally.
Hill said the Legislature should fully appeal House Bill 1523 instead of waiting for the 5th Circuit to rule on the cases. Hill said the rally was also to encourage lawmakers not to introduce anti-LGBT legislation in the upcoming session.
The Human Rights Campaign helped the City of Jackson pass an ordinance protecting discrimination of city workers for their "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" earlier this year. Hill said his organization is working with other city leaders throughout the state to pass similar measures.
If House Bill 1523 becomes law on appeal, it will override the City of Jackson's ordinance. Jackson is the only city in the state to pass such an ordinance so far.
Hill said he supports state legislation like a statewide anti-discrimination act, which died in committee in the 2016 legislative session. He also said that lawmakers introduced several other anti-LGBT bills in that time.
"Mississippi had several anti-LGBTQ bills filed, and those didn't get out of committee, except House Bill 1523," he said.
The 2017 legislative session starts Jan. 3. For more stories about LGBT rights in Mississippi visit jfp.ms/lgbt.