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SPLC files lawsuit against Miss. town for denying business license for LGBT bar

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit against the town of Shannon, Miss., its mayor and its aldermen for denying a business license to a bar catering to the LGBT community.

The complaint describes how the town of Shannon and its leaders denied a business license to Pat Newton, a lesbian, who owns O’Hara’s bar, in violation of her right to free speech and equal protection under the First and 14th Amendments.

Shannon-MS“The mayor and aldermen have no legitimate reason to deny Pat Newton the business license,” said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. “Their opposition is rooted in blatant hostility toward a legitimate business, simply because a lesbian would operate it and because it would serve the LGBT community.”

“They have discriminated against our client, even relishing the opportunity to discriminate,” said Dinielli.

According to the SPLC, one alderman has stated that the town, which struggles with a shrinking tax base, welcomes the prospect of fighting a federal lawsuit rather than allow a revenue-generating gay bar to operate within the town’s boundaries.

The complaint refers to him stating that he is looking forward to this lawsuit because litigation would likely delay the opening of O’Hara’s even longer.

Newton, 55, operated a bar called O’Hara’s in the community from 1994 to 1998, and it mainly served LGBT customers. After receiving numerous requests to reopen the bar, she entered into a lease and obtained a state business license and liquor license. She poured thousands of dollars and countless hours into upgrading the bar and preparing for its opening.

When she asked about obtaining a local business license, the mayor told her to submit an application and attend a board of aldermen meeting on June 4, when the board would vote on her application. Newton thought the hearing would be routine, but instead she encountered a hostile crowd of 30 to 40 people.

At the hearing, an adviser to the town informed the board that Newton had met all the requirements for her application but that the application could be denied on public health and safety concerns.

The board denied the application by a 4-to-1 vote – even though no legitimate evidence regarding public health and safety was presented.

The complaint alleges that city officials had denied earlier applicants’ requests to reopen the same gay bar while permitting bars that are unaffiliated with LGBT people to operate.

“I simply want to open a business in Shannon that would mean so much to so many people,” Newton said. “I was asked by people within this community to open this bar. I’ve met all of the town’s requirements. It’s sad that town officials have chosen to engage in ugly, discriminatory behavior that doesn’t represent the town I know.”

Since entering into a lease in May, Newton has expanded and repaired the bar’s parking lot, replaced deteriorating wood with siding, cleared outside lots filled with trash, and made other improvements.

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Filed under: Mississippi

18 more reader comments:

  1. The mayor is a dictator

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 4:53pm
  2. You can just remove the "tator" part, and you're right on!!

    Replied on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 5:28pm
  3. Nah - dictator was appropriate. Too many people like dick.

    Replied on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 5:40pm
  4. It’s a good thing they weren’t applying for a license for an adult book store!

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 4:54pm
  5. Nothing like cutting off your nose to spite you face. 1) They refuse to let a business operate – which would have provided a much-needed revenue stream for the town… 2) They willingly engage in behavior that they know will cost taxpayer dollars. Really?

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 5:01pm
  6. Sue their asses off!

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 5:11pm
  7. She is goin to win the case no doubt and that motherfucker trying to stop her will have karma to look forward to

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 5:11pm
  8. That is so wrong! I would leave that city….

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 5:23pm
  9. I grew up in that area during the 80′s. Driving through Shannon was a gauntlet, if you were gay, you’d probably get stopped for drunk driving even if you weren’t drunk. I knew backroads, so I’d never take the highway. It was a hideous place. There’s a documentary called Small Town Gay bar that deals with this whole area. I left in 1987 and have been back since.

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 5:24pm
  10. Thomas its Mississippi they just passed the 13 amendment just few months ago.

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 5:28pm
  11. the Mayor is a Small minded IDIOT.

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 5:51pm
  12. I loved visiting my great aunt and uncle in miss. every summer, but i hate that MS is one of the most bigoted states in the united states .

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 6:47pm
  13. The south has a long way to go for sure for equal rights.!!! I know that one for sure.!!!

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 7:40pm
  14. No rights are won without a fight…

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 8:34pm
  15. It’s Mississippi, what do you expect?

    Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 10:50pm
  16. Are we certain as to the reason it was denied? There was a bar called Rumors on Romie Hill Avenue in Shannon, which was open for many years, directly across the street from one of the rowdier redneck bars…

    Posted on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 4:18am
  17. I think that Shannon in Ireland ought to sue them for tainting its good name

    Posted on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 5:44am
  18. good for the town, go to some homofascist city like San Francisco

    Posted on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 6:49pm