Shannon hit with lawsuit over gay bar

By J.B. Clark

Daily Journal

ABERDEEN – The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed suit in U.S. District Court challenging the town of Shannon’s denial of a license to a woman who wants to open a gay-oriented bar.

The suit claims P.J. Newton was unjustly denied a business license for a bar that would cater to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of Northeast Mississippi.

The suit was filed following a June 4 decision in which the Shannon Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 to deny the special exception license needed for Newton to open the bar.

City Attorney Gary Carnathan said at the time the denial was based on concerns of necessity for general welfare, traffic congestion and public need due to another bar being across the street. However, the Montogmery, Ala.-based SPLC became involved on Newton’s behalf when the permit was denied.

“It is important to show that you can’t violate people’s rights and freedom,” Newton said. “Folks in the LGBT community from small towns have to drive a long ways to a city where they can find a place to be themselves and we need something like this.”

She operated the bar, O’Haras, in Shannon from 1994 until 1998 when she moved to Memphis. The bar operated under the name Rumors after Newton left.

She has said she wanted to reopen because the bar provided a safe place for the LGBT community and said she was asked by community members to return. She leased the space in May and began making improvements.

The civil rights suit alleges the Shannon aldermen denied Newton’s license because the business would cater to the LGBT community and not because of a failure to meet criteria for operating a business in the town.

Repeated late-night phone calls to Newton saying she would never be able to open the bar and suggesting she leave town are cited in the suit. Newton’s attorneys are seeking an award of damages, an injunction allowing her to open the business and any attorney fees and costs.

“It’s important, obviously, to P.J. personally but it’s also important for her and us to show the country that everyone deserves to be treated equally, whether that’s in New York, San Francisco or rural Mississippi,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director for SPLC.

Carnathan, Shannon’s attorney, said he has yet to receive notice of the suit and could not comment.

jb.clark@journalinc.com

  • LogicalLeo

    Why couldn’t she have simply applied for a business license for a bar? Why the need to specify that it’s a “gay bar”? Is it this constant need for affirmation, attention, or to just make everyone accept the lifestyle as “normal”?

    • Jessica

      She did just apply for a business license, there is no such thing as a “Gay Bar” business license. The town already knows she is a lesbian, that is why they want to stop her from opening. One of them even said they look forward to her lawsuit.

      If I were living in this town I would be worried about taxes and the towns insurance costs going up. There is no law that states you are allowed to prevent a gay bar from opening. So… the town council is acting illegally and will be liable for the monetary damages that the plaintiff will surely ask for. This is a slam dunk case. I hope she sues the heck out of Shannon.

  • my2toys

    She did apply for business license for a bar. She didn’t say it was a ‘gay bar’. They assumed it was a ‘gay bar’ and attacked her at the meeting with questions about being a christian and ‘gay’ being a sin. She stood up for who she is. She wasn’t going to lie and say she was straight and the patrons would be straight. The building housed a ‘gay bar’ for 15 years prior to her trying to reopen. What gives you or anyone else the right to determine what is “normal”.

  • LogicalLeo

    Well, toy person, normal is what is usual, typical or expected. I didn’t make rules, write the dictionary or design man and woman. One being L,G,B, or T is not usual, not typical, nor is it expected. I’m just fine with folks that are any of those 4 letters having their own place to hang out. However, if someone opened a bar and called it a “straight bar”, who do you think would be all up in arms?

    • Jessica

      Gay bars don’t discriminate against straight people, there welcome as long as they don’t cause problems. You also find a lot of straight people in gay bars and lots of gay people in straight bars.

  • RD Cordle

    The thing is she operated and owned the bar in the 90′s without a problem. The bar remained a gay bar until 2010 from the reports. If the town of Shannon had a problem with the owners after her fine, don’t let them reopen. They had no problem when she had the bar. One would think that the town would welcome someone coming in with proven success, fixing up an eyesore and collecting the taxes the place would bring in.