The city of Jackson, Mississippi hosted several Pride-based events throughout the month of June, giving the Lighthouse time to grab a few celebrants and pepper them with questions. We were looking for insight on what LGBTQ+ residents find appealing about this tiny, blue spot in the middle of the bright red Bible Belt.
We were sad to hear that what keeps them in the city of Jackson is … well, nothing much. And certainly not as much as it used to be.
“I would leave this place in a heartbeat,” said hairstylist Gee Lemonade, lounging outside Fondren’s June 25 drag show and block party, hosted by Capital City Pride.
Lemonade and her friend, Dylan Hegwood, politely tolerated my questions between shouting matches with anti-abortion incels on the sidewalk. Entertainment venue Duling Hall was hosting an assortment of pride-friendly activities that day, and apparently making itself an asshole magnet.
“You dress like a woman and that’s why you’re going to hell,” shouted one of the sidewalk catcallers. He was bearded, with a bowl haircut. He held a large sign saying, “Repent or Perish!” There were roughly five of them.
“How many new Christians do you think you’re making here today, being a pest?” one audience member responded.
A second expressed doubt that the Bible said anything at all about her Brian Atwood brand shoes.
The catcallers were the spillover from the protest movement at a nearby abortion clinic—Mississippi’s last, in fact, and now slated for closure. The U.S. Supreme Court revealed itself to be a politicized adjunct of the Republican Party last month by delivering a slate of contradictory decisions. Court idealogues tied themselves into pretzels voting to undermine states’ gun regulations while inconsistently buttressing states’ anti-abortion laws. The only connecting thread between the decisions was a zealous loyalty to long-term GOP goals.
The court’s decision to end Roe v. Wade was particularly controversial. The state of Mississippi is one of many that have an automatic “trigger law” set to outlaw abortion inside state borders. This means the majority white, majority male Mississippi legislature will now be deciding if local Black women have a say in their own reproductive lives.
With the clinic now preparing to close under the state’s trigger law, anti-abortion protestors had little to do that weekend but take their fight to the next, nearest moral outrage: the gay community down the street.
Hegwood appeared to enjoy arguing with the incels, but the exchange left a lingering bitterness on her face.
“I would leave Jackson, but I’m a hairstylist and it’s just hard to up and jump wherever and make new clients. It’s the clientele that pay good money,” Hegwood said. “You don’t get paid hourly in this business. You get paid by asses in the chair. If there’s no asses in the chair, there’s no money. I have built up clientele here, and if I got to start out of state, I got to start all over, with literally no help.”
The city of Jackson contains only about 150,000 residents, despite being Mississippi’s capital. Wealthier white suburbs and converted sundown towns work around the clock finding new ways to slurp off the municipality’s dwindling middle class and revenue-generating businesses. Despite the city’s modest size, Hegwood says she comes from an even more rural setting than Jackson.
“Growing up, I was in the countryiest, bumkinest-ass high school. McLaurin Highschool in Star, Mississippi, right down the road. Went there and nothing but some backwoods shit—and let me tell you, I made it.”
Hegwood transitioned before getting her diploma and admits trans life was not easy in the unincorporated community of Star. But she says she had the support of a few teachers, the principal, and her own parents.
“I think I did a favor to people coming up behind me,” she said. “A lot of the staff members who are still there now know how to deal with people who are different because they never had nobody with the balls to be themselves. I made my own path, and I think I opened it for others.”
“Why don’t you take off that dress!” came an interrupting shout from the sidewalk.
“Why don’t you take a bath,” came the answer, followed by an upturned middle finger from one of the other guests.
“I’m older than [Hegwood],” says Lemonade over the racket. “[Hegwood] had an opportunity to transition as a teenager, but I was already an adult when I started. I was a graduate of Jim Hill high school, right here in Jackson.”
“Was it easier transitioning after high school?” I ask.
“Probably,” she says, before turning to Hegwood. “But at least you got to go to prom,” she says enviously.
Like Hegwood, Lemonade is also a hairstylist, but also captive to her clients. She says building a new base in a more liberal town or a more progressive state isn’t easy, especially when confronting higher rent and living costs typical of big city living.
“I’d certainly live elsewhere,” she says, staring disdainfully at the hairy people beating their chest on the sidewalk. “I’d still visit, though. The small-town atmosphere keeps drawing me back.”
There is a curious duality among LGBTQ+ people interviewed for this article. Nobody claims they’re ready to live big city life, even if it weren’t prohibitively expensive. Instead, most sources claim to appreciate and adore the simpler, more relaxed small-town lifestyle. On the other hand, small communities unquestionably contain a harsh element of judgement—sometimes even animosity. The ugly undercurrent of bigotry could now get a boost from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who said the court’s landmark gay marriage ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges was a “demonstrably erroneous” decision, worthy of reexamination, along with rulings legalizing contraceptives and the right to engage in private sexual acts.
Thanks to supreme court bigots, people like the shouting goon on the sidewalk could soon be shouting in your kitchen, demanding the annulment of your marriage.
Jackson State University graduate Jamareous Thompson, 22, says he loves living in the South, but won’t stay here if places like Mississippi get yanked back into the dark ages.
“That decision last week was heartbreaking,” Thompson told The Lighthouse. “I remember seeing the gay marriage ruling (Obergefell v. Hodges) being decided back in 2015 and being elated. It was so beautiful and such an amazing thing to see. Growing up, I was certain I was going to have to call somebody my partner for the rest of my life. That moment in 2015 felt like coming out of the closet, and now the fact that people [like Clarence Thomas] want to reexamine that ruling feels like I’m being shoved back in the closet and that my rights are going to be slowly stripped away, piece by piece, layer by layer until we’re back in the 1960s.”
Thompson said he is a child of the south and desperately wants to stay, but his upcoming career gives him the option to relocate from Jackson if thugs like Clarence Thomas hold sway. He says he will not be taking his income to any of Jackson’s parasite suburbs, either. He’ll be vacating Mississippi entirely and adding to the swarm of youth fleeing the state and its backward policies.
“If we get to a point that (Obergefell) gets overturned I will have to go to a state that’s going to view my marriage as a marriage. If that means I have to pack my things and go to Washington, then that means
I’ll be living in Washington,” Thompson said. “I will miss small town life severely. I will miss my friends. I will miss my family. I will miss the essence of the south, but peace of mind in the fact that I’ll be able to love who I love out loud is more important to me than the comfort of being at home.”