Earlier this month, Mayor Robyn Tannehill, along with the Board of Aldermen, signed a proclamation officially declaring June 2022 Pride Month in Oxford.
The proclamation states the reasoning for this decision: “The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) communities of Oxford, Mississippi are an integral part of the vibrant culture and climate of Oxford.” It goes on to state, “The diverse LGBTQ community continues to contribute to the widespread academic, economic, artistic and social spheres within and around our greater community.”
Although Oxford has been added to the long list of U.S. cities that officially recognize the month-long celebration, only a handful of other Mississippi cities, including Jackson and Ocean Springs, have officially declared June Pride Month.
Although June is just now being declared Pride Month, other pride activities — like parades — have been held in Oxford.
Jaime Harker, director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at UM, said she believes the decision is a great reflection of the Oxford community.
“It is a great sign of progress in the city of Oxford and an admirable statement of the values of our community,” she said.
Harker, author of The Lesbian South: Southern Feminists, the Women in Print Movement, and the Queer Literary Canon, also said this decision is especially uplifting given the broader political climate.
“Any time the LGBTQ+ community is acknowledged as an essential part of the larger community is positive,” Harker said, “In a time when many politicians are participating in a backlash against the LGBTQ+ community, I am happy to see elected officials in Oxford recognize how important inclusivity is.”
Harker acknowledged that a decision like this is especially important for younger members of Oxford’s LGBTQ+ community.
“I think these public proclamations of inclusion and acceptance are particularly important for queer youth,” Harker said, “If you don’t speak up and express your support, they are left with the many negative messages that dominate social media and crop up in churches and legislatures.”
Sebastian Prisock, Ole Miss student and member of Students Against Social Injustice, said he feels the decision is good for queer youth as well, especially considering the South is not known for being queer-friendly.
“When I was looking into colleges it was really important for me to find a place that I knew would have a supportive community,” Prisock said, “Most people I talk to don’t believe me when I say that Oxford has good spaces for the queer community if you know where to look, so I hope this will help queer youth feel more comfortable existing in Oxford.”
Prisock, while glad for the decision, also said the declaration is a small step.
“On one hand I’m happy that the community is being acknowledged,” Prisock said, “but it also feels like, with everything happening in the country right now, it’s almost the bare minimum.”
There has been a recent wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the country, and Mississippi is at the forefront of this movement. In early March, Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill that restricts the participation of transgender youth in sports. In many states, including Mississippi, it is legal for businesses to turn away LGBTQ+ customers if the owners believe serving them would violate their religious beliefs. In a recent article describing similar laws, Rolling Stone stated, “Mississippi is the most successful case the Christian right has had so far.”
Pushbacks to Pride Month declarations such as Oxford’s are to be expected. However, Harker believes there can be silver linings.
“I saw local community members reacting negatively to a pride display in the window at Square Books Junior this year, for example,” she said, “But that display also gave the larger community an opportunity to rally behind the bookstore and speak out in favor.”
The last point made on the proclamation combats the negative reactions Harker speaks of. It states, “Oxford’s LGBTQ communities make an indelible positive impact upon the quality of life in Oxford, and Pride Month serves as a call to our collective consciousness to persist in the fight to eradicate prejudice and discrimination everywhere.”
This decision is regarded by many people as a positive and necessary step forward for Oxford.
“Being an ally means publicly proclaiming your support and speaking out when homophobes spew hate,” Harker said, “I am proud of Oxford.”
Pride Month began as a way to remember the Stonewall riots that began in New York City on June 28, 1969. Members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community protested against the violent police raid of a gay bar, Stonewall Inn, on the morning of June 28. These protests are widely considered the start of the LGBTQ+ liberation movement in the United States.
A pride parade was held in New York in June 1970, the one-year anniversary of the uprising. Pride initially covered one weekend — usually the last weekend in June — and gradually grew to cover the whole month. In 1999 and 2000, former President Bill Clinton declared June Pride Month, and former President Barack Obama did the same every year during his two presidential terms. President Joe Biden has followed suit, declaring June 2021 and 2022 Pride Month.