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Federal lawsuit against Miss. town for denying gay bar permit to go to trial

Federal lawsuit against Miss. town for denying gay bar permit to go to trial

OXFORD, Miss. — A woman’s federal lawsuit that accuses the leaders of a north Mississippi town of conspiring to prevent her from opening a gay bar by denying her a business license will go to trial Jan. 26, 2015, in Aberdeen.

Pat Newton
Pat Newton

Pat “PJ” Newton filed the federal lawsuit last fall against the mayor and several aldermen of Shannon, Miss., a town of about 1,700 in Lee County where Newton has been trying to open a cafe and bar called O’Hara’s to cater to the gay community.

Newton argues the mayor and aldermen declined to issue the paperwork for a bar she wanted to open because it would cater to LGBT customers.

The city has denied the allegations in briefs filed with the court. However, the court briefs offer no explanation of why the paperwork was denied.

The lawsuit said the town had no legitimate reason to deny the request for a business license.

The 55-year-old Newton, who is a lesbian, is seeking monetary damages and an order to allow her to open the business.

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The Southern Poverty Law Center is representing the Memphis, Tenn., woman in the lawsuit.

Newton told The Associated Press in an October interview that she first opened a gay bar called O’Hara’s in the same location in Shannon in 1994 and operated it without problems until 1998, when she sold it to take on new business ventures.

The new owners continued to run a gay bar there called “Rumors” until 2010, according to the lawsuit. Rumors was profiled in a 2006 documentary called “Small Town Gay Bar” about the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the rural South.

The board of aldermen denied the request on a 4-to-1 vote last June then refused to reconsider the decision during a meeting in July.

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