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Inaugural L.O.U. Pride Weekend Celebrates LGBTQ+ Population, Receives Community Support

Graphic courtesy Facebook.com / LOU Pride Weekend
Graphic courtesy Facebook.com / LOU Pride Weekend

For the first time in Oxford history, there will be an LGBTQ+ pride parade at 2:30 p.m. from the Ford Center through the Square this Saturday, May 7.

The parade is a part of the inaugural L.O.U. Pride Weekend that is organized by University of Mississippi students in conjunction with the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies. The purpose of this weekend is to create inclusive spaces for the LGBTQ+ community within Oxford, Lafayette and University social circles.

Tonight, the L.O.U. Pride Weekend will kick off with a Code Pink dance party at Proud Larry’s for attendees over 18 years of age. The cover is $5 and the party begins at 9 p.m. On Friday, May 6, there will be a graduation celebration for the LGBTQ+ students who are graduating from University of Mississippi at the Student Union Ballroom from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Later that Friday evening, GoDiva’s Eleganza Extravaganza drag show back by popular demand at Proud Larry’s at 9 p.m. with a $5 cover and for attendees 18 and above.

Then on Saturday, the Pride parade will begin organizing at 2 p.m. with official start at 2:30 p.m. Anyone is welcome to march within the parade to show support for inclusion within Lafayette-Oxford-University community.

Matt Kessler
Matt Kessler

A UM graduate student, Matt Kessler, is the organizer of the Pride Parade.

Kessler said in an email, “I love Oxford. However, the city sorely lacks public spaces for the LGBTQ community. At the Sarah Isom Center, we’ve been dedicated to trying to think of new ways to create those types of public spaces and events. A Pride parade just seemed like a good fit.”

He believes that the parade will have a positive impact on the community.

He said, “It’ll be great! It’ll create visibility for the LGBTQ community and it’ll allow the Oxford community to show the LGBTQ community some love!! It’ll counteract all the hateful legislation with love! What’s better than that? Communities coming together and showing each other love and respect. Drowning out all the hate generated by small interest groups and extremists.”

Parade route, photo courtesy Facebook.com / LOU Pride Weekend
Parade route, photo courtesy Facebook.com / LOU Pride Weekend

The Sarah Isom Center at the University of Mississippi has worked to provide opportunities and support for UM students such as Matt Kessler to organize inclusive events such as the L.O.U. Pride Parade.

Assistant director of Sarah Isom Center, Dr. Theresa Starkey, said, “The Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies is excited by and proud to be a part of LOU Pride Weekend and to work with student organizers and members of UM Pride Network. This inaugural event is a celebration. It is an exciting community moment that creates inclusive spaces for LGBTQ students and the broader Queer community. All are welcome to participate in this joyous event.”

Dr. Starkey and Kessler are both especially grateful for the support from within the community. The donors of this event were Crossroads Film Festival with Oxford Film Festival, Departments of Art & Art History, English and Social Work as well as Office of Chancellor – Multicultural Affairs. UM Pride Network and the Student Union with the Student Housing and Residential Learning also showed support. Yoknapatawpha Arts Council and the Powerhouse Community Arts Center were also listed as donors along with Kerry W. Hamilton and Lucius M. Lamar on sarahisomcenter.org.

Dr. Starkey said, “There has been such community generosity and enthusiasm from local businesses such as Proud Larry’s and the Shelter. Both have come on board as venue sponsors. Oxford Film Festival and Crossroads Film Festival also exemplify community spirit and have partnered together in support of the weekend by lining up a series of LGBTQ short films for the festival.”

When asked about the community support, Kessler said, “Tons! The Oxford Police Department has been great! And local business owners and community members have been great too!! We have a crowdfunding site going and people have been very generous with donations.”

OPD's Major Jeff McCutchen Photo courtesy of OPD
OPD’s Major Jeff McCutchen
Photo courtesy of OPD

Oxford police department’s Major Jeff McCutchen said that the police department helped the Pride parade organizers plan the route.

He said, “Well, it’s similar to any parade where a group gets a permit. We reach out to them and ask them, you know, what their needs are so we can be best prepared. How many people are you expecting? We learn the route, we find out what they need, and we try to make it happen. Our job is just making sure they have a safe route in, a safe route out, and that they’re afforded the same rights everybody else has on the parade and that’s just our goal that day. We’re trying to make sure that we do it just like we always would for anyone. It may seem like it’s more effort, but to us, it’s just our job.”

Mayor Pat Patterson
Mayor Pat Patterson

Oxford mayor Pat Patterson calls on the residents within Lafayette-Oxford-University community to show respect and peacefulness this weekend.

He said, “The city of Oxford respects the right of all citizens to assemble peacefully, regardless of the content or viewpoint of their speech. However, we expect all participants of any parade or demonstration to abide by all laws and ordinances and respect all people and refrain from acting in any matter that can be construed as a threat to public safety.”

On Sunday, May 8, the Oxford Film Festival will screen “Struggles and Celebrations of Being Out in the Deep South” at The Shelter on Van Buren in co-sponsorship with Crossroads Film Society at 4 p.m., free of charge.

Oxford Film Festival Executive Director Melanie Addington
Oxford Film Festival Executive Director Melanie Addington

The Executive director of Oxford Film Festival, Melanie Addington, said, “The Oxford Film Festival is proud to support the Pride Parade. We are genuinely excited to see our community continue to grow and support diverse voices.”

Overall, the goal for this L.O.U. Pride Weekend is to inspire celebration and joy as well as create spaces within the Lafayette-Oxford-University community for the LGTBQ+ individuals. Kessler believes that the atmosphere within Oxford and University of Mississippi is increasingly more acceptable. According to the RSVPs on the Facebook event page for LOU Pride Weekend, there are 448 people planning on attending with 354 people interested in the event.

He said, “I haven’t experienced too many problems. I think – and recent presidential polls have also shown this – that there is a massive change in the way the younger generation perceives the LGBTQ community. It’s much more accepting, across the political spectrum.”

To stay updated on the events, find it on Facebook or visit http://sarahisomcenter.org/lou-pride-weekend.

Callie Daniels Bryant is the senior managing editor at HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at callie.daniels@hottytoddy.com.

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