Is it time to look for new state nickname?

Published 9:59 am Tuesday, April 5, 2016

When I moved to Mississippi a year ago, I was proud to tell people I was living in the Hospitality State.

This moniker was not one that I was simply regurgitating like a line out of a book but rather something I have truly lived and embraced.

My dictionary of choice, the Oxford English Dictionary, also known as the Rolls Royce of dictionaries, defines hospitality as such: The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.

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Since coming here, I’ve been surrounded by people who have been truly hospitable, and for that, I’m thankful.

Many have taken me — a guest, a visitor, a stranger — under their wing, treating me as they would one of their own.

I’ve been met with the friendly and generous reception one would expect from a state known for its hospitality.

Imagine my surprise when recently the Hospitality State has been smeared across headlines everywhere looking anything but hospitable.

House Bill 1523 aims to protect people, religious organizations and certain businesses that wish to refuse services to lesbian, gay, bisexuals and transgender individuals on religious grounds. After passing both the House and the Senate, the bill is now awaiting Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature before it becomes law.

Critics have called the bill the most sweeping anti-LGBT legislation in the country, adding it would undeniably allow discrimination of such people seeking services, goods, wedding products, medical treatment, housing and employment.

I’m inclined to agree with those critics.

I don’t know about you, but hanging up a “No gays allowed” sign on the front of a barber shop doesn’t exactly seem representative of the Hospitality State to me.

Why, when we pride ourselves on offering friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers, do our legislators proceed to pass such hateful, discriminatory legislation?

What if, instead, we took the idea of being the Hospitality State to heart and became a state known for being inclusive rather than exclusive?

Imagine if the barber chose not to hang a discriminatory sign, but rather cut, color and style a gay man’s hair. With such close proximity, the barber would even have the opportunity to invite the man to his church, synagogue or mosque.

To me, that’s what religious liberty should be about. There’s a way to be welcoming and accommodating without discriminating, and I know Mississippians can figure out how, even if our legislators can’t.

Here’s to hoping Gov. Phil Bryant vetoes the bill, or else, we better start looking for a new state nickname.

Austin Vining is a staff writer for The Vicksburg Post. Email comments to