‘Coming Home With Pride’: Jackson Nonprofit Holds LGBTQ+ Observances in June, October

Capital City Pride, a nonprofit that boasts a diverse board and aims to support and encourage the LGBTQ+ community in Jackson and beyond, will host a number of Pride events throughout June 2022, as well as a larger, four-day event in October 2022. Photo courtesy Jason McCarty / Capital City Pride

After graduating from Pearl High School, Jason McCarty became one of the innumerable Mississippians who moved away from the state as soon as he was able, initially planning to never look back. As a gay man growing up in a state with a long history of discriminatory laws aimed at the LGBTQ+ community, McCarty says he never felt safe in the state during those years.

Capital City Pride hosted its inaugural event, “It’s Pride Y’all,” in Jackson, Miss., October 2021, drawing more than 3,000 attendees. Photo by Dawson Bailey / courtesy Capital City Pride

He lived in New York City for roughly a decade before returning to Pearl when one of his parents fell ill. Stepping back into the Magnolia State, McCarty found a Mississippi that was much the way he left it.

“Looking around, I saw we were still a state with so many laws that directly impact queer people, or people who (are diagnosed with) HIV,” McCarty says. “LGBTQ+ people here get picked on in their public schools, in their churches and elsewhere. In other states, you can see a high rate of suicide within the community, somewhere around one in five, but in Mississippi it’s often as bad as three out of five people. We’re a state that loses so many talented people year after year, often because like me they run out of state to college as soon as they can.”

Seeing that progress was not coming to his home state quickly enough on its own, McCarty decided to stay and become a changemaker himself. Together with his friends Lucas Posey, Tyler Griffing and Cody Shumaker, McCarty began laying the groundwork for a nonprofit group to create safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community in the Jackson metro in late 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Despite the complications the pandemic created, McCarty successfully launched the 501(c)(3) organization Capital City Pride and decided that one of its first orders of business would be a celebration honoring Pride Month in June. After several cancellations due to COVID, as well as moving the main event to October due the sweltering heat of Mississippi in June, Capital City Pride launched its inaugural event, “It’s Pride Y’all!” at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson in 2021.

The first Capital City Pride event drew more than 3,000 people, and McCarty is now preparing for an encore with this year’s “Coming Home With Pride 2022,” a four-day celebration that McCarty says is intended to welcome back members of the LGBTQ+ community who have left Mississippi.

“I want to give those people who have moved away something they can look forward to coming back for,” McCarty says. “What we’re doing here is certainly something I needed as a kid all those years ago. Pearl wasn’t the most fabulous place for me back then, but I want our community to see that Jackson is becoming a more inclusive city now.”

“If people can stay here and be able to be their authentic selves, we might not lose so many talented people in our state,” he adds. “This is all about giving those people something worth staying or coming back for.”

‘Visible, Outspoken, Loud and Proud’

The decision to launch Capital City Pride grew out of a dinner conversation one night in 2019, when Posey and Griffing hosted a gathering for gay men and lesbian women at their Jackson home. Discussion turned to the last time Jackson had hosted a pride event in 2016, and how the capital city had not seen another event like it since.

Wanting to see more pride-focused celebrations in the Jackson area, Jason McCarty, Lucas Posey, Tyler Griffing and Cody Shumaker co-founded Capital City Pride, which began organizing events like the 2021 Pride March (shown). Photo by Dawson Bailey / courtesy Capital City Pride

“So many other cities nearby, like Tupelo for example, now have pride events and LGBTQ+ organizations, and we felt like there was no reason for us not to have one here in Jackson,” Posey says. “Being visible, outspoken, loud and proud is the key to making both this city and our state a safer place. At first, it was like we were starting a club, then it grew from there, with us reaching out to other nonprofits to see what we could do about starting our own.”

Griffing, who grew up in a Southern Baptist household in Byram and was deeply involved in the church as a child, spoke about the importance of having an organization like Capital City Pride.

“It was around the time I graduated from high school and started my first few years of college that I realized I didn’t agree with a lot of the church’s opinions and started feeling depressed,” Griffing says. “I thought that I’d have to marry a woman and have a typical family, but somewhere along the way I decided I didn’t want to live a lie. I came out to myself first and then to my parents, and while they were apprehensive at first they’re now fully supportive of me, my partner and the work we’re doing here.”

Posey, who grew up in a rural area of northwest Alabama, shared a similar situation with his partner.

“It was certainly not a place with a diverse population, and definitely not liberal by any stretch of the imagination,” Posey says. “It wasn’t until I started attending Mississippi State University that I got a chance to meet more queer people who broke the mold of where I’d grown up.”

“I quickly saw how being around them helped shape me as a person,” he adds. “When I moved with Tyler to Jackson in 2016, we got to see that one Pride event, and then the people involved with it (stopped or) left for various reasons. We wanted to see something like that happen again.”

In addition to its celebratory events, Capital City Pride holds support groups for young people within the local LGBTQ+ community and organizes other awareness and outreach efforts. Photo courtesy Jason McCarty / Capital City Pride

Posey and Griffing reached out to McCarty, who then served on the board of Grace House, a Jackson nonprofit that provides housing to people living with HIV or recovering from drug addiction, in addition to other local nonprofits in search of advice on how to start their own.

Today, Capital City Pride has an 11-member board with members representing a wide array of sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, race and age groups. Each year the organization votes on a nonprofit that promotes the wellbeing and health of the LGBTQ+ community to support through its charity efforts during the Pride Celebration. Grace House was the beneficiary of the 2021 celebration. The 2022 beneficiary is to be determined.

Beyond its annual celebration, Capital City Pride also hosts support groups for LGBTQ+ children, monthly mixer events and an LGBTQ+ virtual book club. The organization also provides Zoom sessions with mental-health professionals and coordinates with local school Gay-Straight Alliances.

‘Coming Home With Pride’

June’s end will not signal the finale of Capital City Pride’s event-planning for 2022, as the organization’s Pride Month preparations will be followed up with the four-day “Coming Home With Pride” event in October.

Through its events and other organized efforts, Capital City Pride aims to help LGBTQ+ people within the Jackson metro and beyond feel affirmed in their sexual and gender identities. Photo by Dawson Bailey / courtesy Capital City Pride

Ahead of the October event, Capital City Pride will partner with Millsaps College to host a screening of the 2000 film “Sordid Lives” on Millsaps’ campus on Thursday, Sept. 29. The film is based on a play of the same name by Del Shores, which debuted in 1996 in Los Angeles. The film also led to a 2008 television show titled “Sordid Lives: The Series.” The event will feature a meet-and-greet with actors from the film, as well as a silent auction to raise money for Grace House in Jackson.

On Friday, Sept. 30, Capital City Pride plans to host a homecoming dance. The organization will announce the dance’s location on its social-media pages as the date approaches.

“Coming Home With Pride” will kick off on Saturday, Oct. 1, and conclude on Sunday, Oct. 2. While Capital City Pride is keeping the finer details of the big event under its hat for now, its organizers are hoping to create just as big of an impact in Jackson as they did in 2021.

“When I was at our October Pride festival last year, looking around at the thousands of people who all gathered there, the only thing I could think was that this was exactly the kind of event I wished I could have attended as a kid,” Posey says. “My goal now as a member of the Capital City Pride board is to be the kind of adult so many of us wished were around and needed to hear from as children.”

“Our mission here is to create safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, and one tangible way to do that is through events like these, block parties or bowling nights or drag events, that create a place for people to be safe around others like them, where you don’t feel singled out,” he says.

“It also creates a chance for people who might be concerned or even against what we do here to come out and meet and talk to LGBTQ+ people in person,” he adds. “Fear of the unknown is a driving negative force, but when you get to know each other and see that there’s nothing to be afraid of, everyone can grow together.”

Merry Barnes, a straight woman who serves on the Capital City Pride board, is one such ally of the organization who spoke about the importance of Pride Month and the organization’s efforts.

“I may not be a member of the LBGTQ+ community, but so many people in my life are, and through them I’ve been able to see how the way I can function as a straight person is so different from their experience,” Barnes says. “As I’ve grown older I’ve watched people around me who have come out, even family members, and seen their struggles. I want to use my voice to help guarantee them those same rights and opportunities that I or anyone else should have.”

“These events serve as a way to welcome people and every part of who they are, and be a place where they don’t have to put on a mask or facade,” she adds. “While a lot of people may associate Pride with only one month or one big march or event, we want it to be a lasting community effort.”

Packed Schedule of Pride Month Celebrations

Capital City Pride’s month of programming for June begins on Sunday, June 5, with the Safe Harbor Homecoming. Safe Harbor Family Church (1445 Clinton-Raymond Road, Clinton), a primarily LGBTQ+ congregation established in 1995, is organizing the event, which will take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The homecoming party will feature a dinner, live music, a presentation on Safe Harbor’s history and more.

“Most of our congregation is LGBTQ+, and we decided to hold this event for anyone who’s ever been a member and is coming home or friends of the congregation, as well as anyone who wants to learn more about us,” Shelli Poe, pastor at Safe Harbor, says. “We’re an open and welcome community that accepts anyone, and we look forward to anyone who wants to reach out be a part of it.”

For more information on the Safe Harbor Homecoming, call 601-345-3175‬.

Prior to Capital City Pride’s formation in 2019, the Jackson metro area had not seen a pride event since 2016. Now, Capital City Pride organizes pride-focused celebrations, like its Mardi Gras Ball in March 2022. Photo by Dawson Bailey / courtesy Capital City Pride

Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, Jackson) and Sal and Mookie’s (200 District Blvd. E, Jackson) will host weekly charity days throughout June in honor of Pride Month. Every Monday, Broad Street will donate a portion of all coffee sales to Capital City Pride, while Sal and Mookies will donate a portion of all milkshake sales on Tuesdays to the organization. On Tuesday, June 7, Sal and Mookie’s will also offer special “Yappy Hour” discounts on milkshakes from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call 601-362-2900 or 601-368-1919, respectively.

On Friday, June 10, Urban Foxes (826 North St.) pie shop in Jackson will host an after-hours concert series beginning at 6 p.m., featuring live music from Gautier, Miss., native rapper Vitamin Cea. For more information, call 769-572-5505.

JXN Black Pride, an organization supporting Black LGBTQ+ community members in Jackson, is partnering with Capital City Pride to host two events on Saturday, June 11. The organization will first host the “Walk of a Million Faces” at Fondren Park starting at 11 a.m. and follow up with a family picnic at the park from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

On Monday, June 13, Barrelhouse Southern Gastro Pub (3009 N. State St.) will host a Pride-themed version of its monthly trivia contest. The event begins at 6 p.m. and is free to enter. Barrelhouse will also offer happy hour drink prices and a 50% discount on appetizers for the entire night. Capital City Pride requests that guests bring a bag of dog or cat food to donate to Community Animal Rescue and Adoption in Jackson. For more information, call 769-216-3167.

In addition to the Mardis Gras and Pride Month events, Capital City Pride will hold a “Coming Home With Pride” celebration in October 2022 that welcomes LGBTQ+ Mississippians who had previously left the state. Photo by Dawson Bailey / courtesy Capital City Pride

The Human Rights Campaign and the Mississippi Braves are hosting “HRC Out at the Braves” at Smith-Wills Stadium (1200 Lakeland Drive) in Jackson on Thursday, June 16, during the Mississippi Braves game against the Birmingham Barons. For information or to purchase tickets to the game, visit stubhub.com.

The main event of Capital City Pride’s Pride Month schedule will kick off on Saturday, June 25, with the Southern Health Alliance Unity Festival and Block Party on Duling Avenue in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood beginning at 10 a.m. Capital City Pride is partnering with the U=U Mississippi Outreach Project of Prevention Access Campaign, and the HIV Information and Prevention Services program at Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Health Center to put a focus on HIV prevention and healthcare access for the event, which coincides with National HIV Testing Day.

JHCHC and PAC, a global health and human-rights movement that promotes treatments to reduce HIV to undetectable levels so it cannot be sexually transmitted, will partner with other local health organizations to offer free HIV screenings, COVID-19 boosters and other care throughout the day.

The same day, Capital City Pride will host a “Gayrage Sale” beginning at 11 a.m., with booths set up all along Duling Avenue for visitors to peruse. Capital City Pride will take donations for items to sell through Monday, June 20, at The End of All Music (3011 N. State St.) or Green Heart Wellness (603 Duling Ave., Suite 607) in Fondren.

All proceeds will go toward the “Coming Home With Pride” celebration in October. All leftover items will be donated to The Good Samaritan Center after the sale. The sale location will also feature live music and children’s activities throughout the day.

June marks “Pride Month,” a celebration of those within the LGBTQ+ community. Throughout June, Capital City Pride has planned a number of Pride-focused events like drag brunches. Photo by Dawson Bailey / courtesy Capital City Pride

Capital City Pride also plans to host a drag brunch on Sunday, June 26, at 1 p.m., though the location is still to be determined as of this writing. The organization will announce the location on its social-media pages as the date approaches.

Pride Month in Jackson will conclude with the inaugural Queer Gallery Show at the Mississippi Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St.) on Tuesday, June 26, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Capital City Pride will open submissions for art pieces from LGBTQ+ artists throughout Mississippi on Monday, June 6, and will accept entries through Friday, June 17.

Museum curator Ryan N. Dennis will select three winning pieces to put on display in the museum’s lobby through the rest of June. The Queer Art Gallery Show will feature live music and cocktails and is free and open to the public. For more information, call 601-960-1515.

For more information on Capital City Pride or its scheduled events, visit mscapitalcitypride.org or find the organization on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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