Last Thursday, I stood on the first floor of our beautiful state Capitol with newspaper publishers from around the state to mark the 150th anniversary of the Mississippi Press Association.
The special day was scheduled months ago to allow us to share with legislators the great health and vibrancy of Mississippi’s more than 120 newspapers, which were also represented in a large display featuring recent front pages from all of them.
There was only one problem, only a small percentage of the legislators visited and enjoyed the complimentary coffee and doughnuts. By coincidence, our “Day at the Capitol” occurred days after Gov. Phil Bryant signed the embarrassing HB 1523, also known as the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.”
It was shared with me by some legislators that the Republican leadership had advised many of their members to avoid the area and enter the Capitol through a back door so not to risk a potential question about this abhorrent legislation. I am at a loss to understand the decision making of a group of elected leaders in the year 2016 that could adopt a law of clear discrimination.
Over the past few days I’ve read and listened painfully as my beloved state has been unfortunately, however rightly chastised for not learning from its own mistakes. A friend shared with me a picture showing a well known civil rights era photo of four African American men sitting at a lunch counter in the 1960s. The caption read, “Dear Mississippi, in case you missed it, we’ve already had this conversation. You don’t get to decide who sits at the lunch counter. Love, America.”
Many have stated this action by this governor and legislator is a bad solution to a non-existent problem. I couldn’t agree more.
Imagine how Robin Roberts, the nationally beloved host of Good Morning America and a proud Mississippian, must feel. Roberts, who announced she is gay years ago, is featured on the cover of recent Mississippi Tourism promotional items attempting to attract visitors to Mississippi. The very state that has now endorsed discrimination against the LGBT community, is using her fame for its own benefit.
“I have always felt welcomed in my home state, and it hurts my soul to think of anyone not feeling welcome,” Roberts said in a statement. “It’s always been a deeply held belief of mine that everyone, everywhere should be treated equally. I’m proud that my beloved mother and father taught me as a child growing up in Mississippi to focus on the many things we all have in common, not our few differences. And what we all deserve to have in common is the right to be treated equally.”
It only took Mississippi’s business community seconds after the legislature approved HB 1523 to start denouncing it. Everyone from Nissan to Toyota, businesses from The Hills to the Coast urged the governor to veto the clearly bigoted bill. Gov. Phil Bryant, who champions himself as the King of economic development in this state, rebuked our largest corporations and signed the bill, evoking a litany of earned criticism from the rest of the country.
I can’t recall ever seeing such poor, nonsensical leadership. Mississippi is better than this. We deserve better.