SPLC Sues Mississippi Town for Stopping the Opening of a Gay Bar

An Alabama-based nonprofit civil rights group has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against a Mississippi town for its refusal to approve a license to open up a gay bar.

The Southern Poverty Law Center sued the town of Shannon on Tuesday in the Northern District of Mississippi, Aberdeen Division.

Defendants named in the suit include the members of the Board of Aldermen who voted down the request for a business license by lesbian businesswoman Pat Newton.

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"The Defendants denied Newton's business license application because they did not want Newton to open a business in their town that would cater to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ("LGBT") community, and not because of any failure to meet the criteria for opening and operating a business in the town," reads the suit in part.

"In doing so, Defendants violated Newton's federal constitutional rights to equal protection and free speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution."

Newton initially opened a gay bar named "O'Hara's" in 1994 after the character Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind. She sold the facility in 1998. The property continued to operate as a gay bar under different ownership when it closed in 2010.

In May, Newton began the process of reopening the facility, getting a lease and a liquor permit. She also filed an application for a business license and oversaw renovations to the property.

The following month she appeared before Shannon's Board of Aldermen for approval of her application only to be met with community opposition, which included a petition with about 200 names against the bar's opening. The board voted down the license.

According to a press release, the SPLC became involved that summer and demanded that the board reconsider its decision at its July meeting.

"The next day, the board refused to reconsider the license. The mayor also refused a request to explain why the license was being denied," reads the SPLC release.

"The complaint indicates 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."

Gary Carnathan, attorney for Shannon, told Reuters on Tuesday that he had not yet reviewed the suit and therefore could not comment on its merit.

The Christian Post attempted to reach the Shannon town leadership via email and phone, but did not receive a response by press time.

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