Group threatens lawsuit against city of Shannon

Reported by: Wayne Hereford
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Updated: 6/28/2013 8:48 pm
SHANNON, Miss. (WTVA)-- The Southern Poverty Law Center is threatening legal action against the city of Shannon in defense of a business owner who wants to re-open a bar that caters to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, LGBT.

The group held a press conference in Shannon Friday morning, and they are demanding a reply from the city's Board of Aldermen by the next board meeting.

Shannon City Attorney Gary Carnathan says that for now, city leaders are standing by their 4 to 1 decision to deny a special exception license to Pat Newton.

Newton wants to re-open the bar formerly known as O'Hara's.

Newton and representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center met inside of the bar. 

They say that the city's denial is a violation of Newton's constitutional rights, and it discriminates against LGBT's. 

The group sent a letter to the city Friday asking that Newton be allowed to open the bar or face legal action in the form of a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit will seek an undisclosed amount in financial damages as well as the bar's re-opening.

"As a native Mississippian, I know how important it is for the LGBT community to have welcoming spaces. I recognize there are many changes to be made. And, through our actions today we hope to empower business owners in the LGBT community throughout the region," said Ashley Jackson, a community advocate for the Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC. 

"We indicated that we would expect the town to reconsider this decision at its next regulary scheduled meeting which we believe to be July 2, Tuesday. We've asked that we receive a response the next day," replied David Dinielli, deputy legal director of the SPLC.

"When Ms. Newton appeared, she did like everybody who wanted an exception to the ordinance," said Carnathan.

He says that Newton presented her case for re-opening the bar during a June 4 board meeting.

Her request was ultimately denied he says on the grounds of public health and safety issues primarily which he says violate a city ordinance. There was also reportedly a large crowd at the meeting that was against opening the bar.

"The people of Shannon, a multiple number of them, appeared at the hearing and then a lot more signed a petition and they just did not want it. And they gave reasons that they didn't that applied to the ordinance," Carnathan continued.

"I don't think the people of this community should have to drive more than 100 miles for a place that they can be themselves simply because this type of bar makes some people in the community uncomfortable," Newton said. 

Carnathan says it would be up to the board to bring the matter up in its next meeting.

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