Mississippi town sued after refusing to license gay bar

Tue Oct 1, 2013 3:27pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Robbie Ward

TUPELO, Mississippi (Reuters) - A rural northeast Mississippi community discriminated against a lesbian woman by denying her a license to reopen a bar catering to gays and lesbians, a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday claims.

The lawsuit was filed by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center and said the town of Shannon discriminated against Pat "PJ" Newton and violated her civil rights to free speech and equal protection.

It accused the town, the mayor and the aldermen of denying the license because Newton's bar would cater to gays and lesbians, and not because she failed to meet any criteria for opening and operating a business in Shannon.

During the town meeting in June when Shannon aldermen denied the license request, about 40 residents attended to oppose the bar, and delivered a petition with more than 100 signatures from people who objected.

Shannon attorney Gary Carnathan said he had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment. However, he said there was no mention of sexual orientation at the June meeting.

"There wasn't ever any mention about gay or straight or anything when it was brought up," Carnathan said. "It was only brought up after it was initially declined."

Town officials say they voted against having any other bar in the community of about 1,700 residents. The town has a liquor store and two existing bars.

Newton, 55, operated the bar, called O'Haras, in the community from 1994 to 1998. Now living in Memphis, Newton said she decided to reopen it after numerous gays and lesbians in northeast Mississippi said they wanted a place where they could feel comfortable and unwind without feeling threatened.   Continued...

Pat "P.J." Newton stands in front of the building she is leasing in Shannon, Mississippi September 30, 2012. REUTERS/Lauren Wood