Marco McMillian was a unique figure in politics: an openly gay 34 year-old man, willing to look past or defiantly ignore the predjudices of where he lived and run for mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi, a town of about 20,000. In 2004, Ebony Magazine declared McMillian one of 30 up and coming African Americans in U.S. politics under 30. McMillian could have made history simply by running a viable campaign, because no openly gay person ever has in Mississippi.
Tragically, that won't come to pass, because McMillian was killed yesterday in an apparent homicide. Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith said McMillian's body was found Wednesday morning near the levee between Sherard and Rena Lara. It was sent to Jackson for an autopsy. Meredith wouldn't speculate on the cause of death, but he said the case is being investigated as a homicide.
The only details we have so far make the case stranger: Officials had been looking for McMillian since Tuesday when someone crashed his SUV into another car on US Highway 49, but it's not clear if McMillian was in either vehicle. Authorities have a "person of interest" in custody.
McMillian was ambitious in the best possible way. In addition to running for Mayor of Clarksdale, McMillian had just received the first federal contract to raise awareness about the effects of HIV and AIDS on communities of color. He was CEO of MWM & Associates, described on its website as a consulting firm for nonprofit organizations. He was an executive of the fraternity Phi Beta Sigma for four years. McMillian had previously worked to raise funds as executive assistant to the president at Alabama A&M University and as assistant to the vice president at Jackson State University, according to his campaign.
We don't know yet if this is a hate crime, but I will say this. Yesterday I wrote about a former congresswoman who disavowed any alleged support for gay marriage. I thought it was funny how someone would go out of their way to declare themselves a proponent of ignorance that is slowly but surely on its way out. There is nothing funny about McMillian's death. While I'm confident that discrimination against gays will move more and more from assumed to taboo, let's not forget that in the meantime, this ignorance can hurt real people, and occasionally kill them. We owe it to our society to call out homophobia where we see it, and accelerate the process of acceptance as fast as it will go.