Mississippi city officials deny woman license to run LGBT bar in town

A Mississippi woman is enlisting the aid of the Southern Poverty Law Center in filing a civil lawsuit against the town of Shannon, MS. According to a statement at the SPLC website, Pat Newton is suing the city for denying her a license to operate a bar that caters to the LGBT community.

Newton, who is openly lesbian, filed the suit on Tuesday, alleging that the city is violating her right to free speech and equal protection under the First and 14th Amendments. Shannon's Mayor Ronnie Hallmark and several current and former city alderman are named in the suit.

“The mayor and aldermen have no legitimate reason to deny Pat Newton the business license,” said SPLC deputy legal director David Dinielli. “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.”

Newton was attempting to re-open O'Hara's, a bar that she owned and operated in Shannon from 1994 to 1998. Many in the LGBT community lamented the club's closing because it was the only LGBT-friendly establishment within 100 miles. Netwon began the process of renovation and reopening O'Hara's in the spring of 2013. She reapplied for a business license and was told to report to a meeting of the city aldermen on June 4.

At the meeting, the mayor and aldermen had gathered a hostile crowd of 30 to 40 anti-LGBT advocates. The council demanded to know why Newton felt she should be allowed to open "a bar like that" in their community. A citizen demanded to know how Newton could "call (her)self a Christian" woman.

The business license was denied in a 4-to-1 vote in spite of the fact that the city could provide no justification. No evidence for denying the license on the basis of health, public safety or any other reason was entered into legal record.

In July, the SPLC contacted the city and offered the mayor and aldermen a chance to reconsider their decision or face a federal lawsuit. The city declined to take any action.

“I simply want to open a business in Shannon that would mean so much to so many people,” Newton said in the SPLC statement. “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.”

Watch video about this story, embedded below via the SPLC: