The SPLC has filed a lawsuit against the town of Shannon, Mississippi, for refusing a business license to Pat Newton, who planned to open a bar serving the LGBT community in the area:
The complaint describes how the town of Shannon and its leaders denied a business license to Pat Newton, a lesbian, who owns O’Hara’s bar, in violation of her right to free speech and equal protection under the First and 14thAmendments.
A town cannot deny a license because of hostility toward members of a particular group. It also lacks legitimate authority to deny a license to prevent someone like Newton from sending a positive message about LGBT people in Mississippi or to prevent her from providing them a safe space.
“The mayor and aldermen have no legitimate reason to deny Pat Newton the business license,” said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. “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 operated a bar called O’Hara’s in the community from 1994 to 1998, and it mainly served LGBT customers. After receiving numerous requests to reopen the bar, she entered into a lease and obtained a state business license and liquor license. She poured thousands of dollars and countless hours into upgrading the bar and preparing for its opening.
When she asked about obtaining a local business license, the mayor told her to submit an application and attend a board of aldermen meeting on June 4, when the board would vote on her application. Newton thought the hearing would be routine, but instead she encountered a hostile crowd of 30 to 40 people.
The mayor asked her to justify why she should be permitted to open the bar. After stating her reasons, the mayor asked the aldermen and citizens to raise their concerns. Newton was confronted with questions laced with insults from citizens and aldermen. One resident asked how Newton could call herself a Christian. Another asked whether she would let her daughter go into “a bar like that.”
At the end of the hearing, an adviser to the town informed the board that Newton had met all the requirements for her application but that the application could be denied on public health and safety concerns. The board denied the application by a 4-to-1 vote – even though no legitimate evidence regarding public health and safety was presented.
There are certain Americans who simply believe they should have a special right to discriminate against people they don’t like. Unfortunately for LGBT people (and people of color and women and so on), many of them are concentrated in states like Mississippi.
According to the piece, one alderman is excited about the possibility of a long, drawn-out federal lawsuit, if that means that it keeps the bar from opening for a longer period of time. He feels this way, even though the town would benefit greatly from the tax revenue. It’s just more important to hate LGBT people. He probably considers himself a “moral” man.