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A woman in northern Mississippi is suing her city government after they allegedly denied her application to open a gay bar.
Pat Newton has been trying to open O'Hara's, a cafe and bar for LGBT people in Shannon, Miss., which has a population of about 1,700 people, the Associated Press reports. Newton already owns the establishment and obtained a state business license, a liquor permit, and made upgrades to the bar. However, she was denied a license under Shannon's city zoning ordinance with a 4-1 City Council vote in June. The politicians said the bar itself would be a public health and safety hazard.
According to the lawsuit, Shannon mayor Ronnie Hallmark "led a conspiracy to deny Newton a business license," and pursued others to voice opposition to the bar.
The Southern Poverty Law Center will represent Newton in federal court, as at least one town alderman said he welcomes spending public money to fight the bar's owner in court. Newton's lawsuit states that the town "cannot deny a business a license because of hostility toward members of a particular group."
David Dinielli, SPLC's deputy legal director, said the mayor and aldermen lack a legitimate reason to deny the business license.
"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," he said. "They have discriminated against our client, even relishing the opportunity to discriminate."
Newton previously owned the bar from 1994 to 1998 and sold it to owners who renamed the establishment Rumors. That bar was featured in the 2006 documentary Small Town Gay Bar, about LGBT people in the rural South. It shut down in 2010, and Newton obtained ownership.