McCarty. Image: Wiley Smith Photography 

Growing up in the suburbs of Jackson, Jason McCarty could not see a future for himself in Mississippi.

As a gay man, McCarty said he did not feel he could live authentically.

“I spent a lot of years of beating myself up because no one told me it was ok to be who I was,” he recalled.

Now, as Executive Director of MS Capital City Pride, McCarty is advocating for others to live their lives freely – and celebrating diversity and inclusion with this weekend’s Capital City Pride.

The three-day events include an Elton John impersonator, a 5k, a festival, a drag show, a brunch and a unity march.

McCarty said the sponsorship dollars received thus far easily cover their pledged $50,000 donation to Grace House, the weekend’s beneficiary. But, celebrating pride in Jackson in the past was often a hard-fought battle.

“Our organization has accomplished what we have because of people like Unity MS and Knol Aust, Sherry Cothren, HRC Mississippi’s Rob Hill, Jack Summers, Jack Sandifer and Jack Myers,” McCarty said. “They were doing this work when being gay was definitely not accepted. They were doing this work when community members didn’t feel safe to be who they are today. Because of these people, my job is a little easier, and I don’t take that for granted.”

A graduate of Pearl High School, McCarty, now 37, moved to New York City for a decade because, he said, he did not feel safe here.

“I came back to visit a sick parent, and I saw there had been some small changes, but it was the same Jackson. I thought, ‘How can ten years go by with amazing people doing the work, yet we’re not moving the needle?'”

He decided to move back to be a contributor to positive change.

“The four, almost five years I have been back, it’s mind-blowing what we have been able to accomplish,” he said. “It’s baby steps, trust me. We’re still a conservative state. Being gay in Jackson is not easy.”

McCarty credits City of Jackson partnerships and connections, specifically Planning and Development Director Jordan Hillman, and his organization’s collaboration with Visit Jackson, the VIP sponsor of this weekend’s pride.

“I’m so grateful. I love throwing events, but I love making policy changes, and I love making sure the city of Jackson becomes an inclusive city. My job is to make sure we have a seat at the table.”