LEE COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI) -Shannon’s motto is ” Where Good Neighbors Aren’t Hard to Find.” But a business woman, hoping to set up shop in Shannon, says the city is not living up to that saying. Pat Newton is a long time business owner and resident of Shannon. After attending a town meeting where she expected to have a business permit granted to open a gay bar, Pat was met with opposition from those in the community and the board of alderman.
“What happened to PJ is unfair, it is mean spirited, and it is also unconstitutional,” said David Dinielli with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Pat Newton, also known as PJ, operated O’Hara’s bar from 1994-1998; a business that largely served the LGBT community. After deciding to reopen the bar at the urging of friends, PJ ran into an unexpected hurdle. When she went to present her business proposal to the Shannon board of alderman on June 4th, PJ was confronted by dozens of residents.
“I felt alone, I was shocked, some what angered, very much frustrated. But I answered their questions calmly and with respect. More respect than what I was shown,” said Newton.
David Dinielli and The Southern Poverty Law Center immediately stepped in and has demanded that the board grant PJ a special exception to open O’Haras. She believes it boils down to discrimination.
“I don’t think the people in 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,” said Newton.
Newton has asked that her business request be reconsidered. If denied, she plans to take action to sue to city of Shannon.
“There is a binding Supreme Court precedent that says that it is always illegal for a town to exercise its zoning powers in a manor that merely reflects the fears or prejudice of the community. We believe that is what has happened here,” said Dinielli.
The Shannon board of Aldermen who has yet to release an official statement on the matter will hold their next regular meeting on July 2nd. Newton is expecting a revised answer by the 3rd.