JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The U.S. Federal Government officially recognized what is now known as Pride Month in 1999 by a proclamation from then-president Bill Clinton. 

“Our greatest hope for a just society is to teach our children to respect one another, to appreciate our differences, and to recognize the fundamental values that we hold in common,” Clinton said in the proclamation. 

Almost 24 years later, much has changed about how the country views LGBTQIA+ Americans. Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, religious denominations have amended church doctrine, and polls indicate increased support for LGBTQIA+ rights among Americans. 

For Jason McCarty, Capital City Pride’s Executive Director, Pride Month represents something more significant than himself. 

“I go into Pride Month every year with this sense of renewity, that life for me is good today because people before me came and created safe spaces. And so every day I try to wake up to create more safe spaces for Mississippians,” McCarty said.

Pride Month also represents a time of hard truths. 

Greyson Arnold is a native of Alabama. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in May with a bachelor’s in family sciences. Arnold will pursue his master’s and Ph.D. in the same field at the University of Minnesota. He is excited about how he can continue the research he began in undergrad. 

“I think that in the past, science has really been against the queer community,” Arnold said. “We’ve seen that in people quoting research in support of conversion therapy or in support of detransitioning and many other aspects of anti-queer science that has existed. But we’re at a point to where we can really shift that.”

  • Greyson Arnold stands on USM's Eagle Walk in his graduation attire for a graduation photo
  • Greyson Arnold shakes his hand with USM President Joseph Paul as he walks across the stage to receive his degree in Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

For grad school, however, he didn’t want to deal with the difficulties and dangers of being a trans man in south Mississippi. 

“I feel so much safer and so much more accepted and supported, which is a large part of why I looked at schools outside of the South for grad school,” Arnold said. 

McCarty, a gay man, feels a similar sense of fear on a legislative level. He thinks that Mississippi lawmakers who pass legislation like House Bill 1125 are doing so in bad faith. The now-law refers to gender-affirming care for minors as “experimental adolescent procedures” and bans this care for those under 18 in Mississippi. 

“I think we write laws based on fear, and not really on reality,” McCarty said.  

In justification of this law, Governor Tate Reeves asserted the contrary. 

“We must take every step to preserve the innocence of our children, especially against the cruel forces of modern progressivism, which seek to use them as guinea pigs in their sick social experiments,” Reeves said in his 2023 State of the State Address.

The stances of health organizations, like the American Medical Association, about gender-affirming care refute the governor’s claims. 

In either case, McCarty says legislative hurdles like these cause people to leave the Magnolia State.

“What infuriates me the most is that we continue to lose valuable Mississippians. We continue to lose people like myself and others that are educated, that are outgoing, that are caring, compassionate about our communities, that put our cities first,” McCarty said.

Arnold would be more conscious about his surroundings if he were still in Mississippi. 

“If I was doing this interview with you while I was in Mississippi, I would not be in a public space. I would be doing it in my home,” Arnold said. WJTV News interviewed Arnold over Microsoft Teams while he was in a Chicago coffee shop. 

Losing people like Arnold hurt those like McCarty, but it serves as inspiration simultaneously. 

“If you really want to get a community together, to help and to motivate, and to fight back, just create laws against us.”

  • Community Members stand on the steps of the Mississippi Capitol in the 2022 Capital City Pride Festival
  • Community members take a photo while at the 2021 Capital City Pride Festival
  • Jason McCarty poses for a photo with a participant at the 2021 Capital City Pride Festival
  • Members and clergy within the Episcopal Church stand for a picture while at the Capital City Pride Festival in 2021

McCarty and others hope that this Pride month, their uniqueness can be shared, but he feels it is equally important to highlight how similar he and others are to everyone else. 

“I’m just like any other Mississippian. I get up, I put my shoes on the same way, I pay taxes, I go to church, I go to work, and I have a family,” McCarty said.