Bar owner alleges anti-gay discrimination harming Marietta Pride

Confusion over dates and events has marred this year’s North Georgia Marietta Pride, but setbacks caused by anti-gay discrimination are the real blame this year’s annual event appears less than organized, an organizer alleges.

Johnathon Murphy, an owner and managing partner of LeBuzz and president of the North Georgia Rainbow Coalition, issued a long and detailed statement and apology on Sept. 15 for the confusion surrounding dates and events being held over several weeks this year to celebrate Marietta Pride’s fifth anniversary.

“This was my apology letter. Essentially I’m trying to salvage Marietta Pride this year,” Murphy told the GA Voice of the note he posted to Facebook. “I offered up an explanation and my apology so people would understand and we could hopefully garner some support.”

“I know it is a lengthy explanation and apology but I didn’t want people to think we had arbitrarily changed everything,” he said.

Murphy said a lease was signed in May for a new spot on Wylie Road close to the current location of LeBuzz. But city officials denied a liquor license transfer and LeBuzz remains to date located at 585 Franklin Road, right off I-85.

Murphy set up a account in an attempt to raise $10,000 from the public saying in his statement that LeBuzz lost $25,000 plus months of labor and planning when city officials denied to license transfer.

A new location for LeBuzz was being sought because of problems with its new neighbor—another bar—Murphy said.

“It was supposed to be a high-end jazz club. Instead there are a lot of thugs and a lot of issues. We went to the landlord and complained. There were lots fights and it intimidated our customers,” he said. “We had safety concerns. When the landlord was not responsive I started looking for another place, somewhere very close.”

‘Like this sea of hate’

At a public hearing on Aug. 6 to request the license be transferred to the Wylie Road location for LeBuzz, citizens protested the move, Murphy said.

“It was like this sea of hate. Every single one of them [the residents] objected” to the bar being located in their neighborhood, Murphy said.

Murphy said he was told by a city official that the license transfer would only be a formality and he believed he was going to find out that day, Aug. 6, if the license transfer was approved. Instead was told by the city manager’s office that it had 60 days before a final decision had to be made.

“That interfered with our Pride planning and threw all of our timelines off,” Murphy said.

After three weeks, the city manager denied the business license transfer citing zoning requirements.

“I just feel like they caved under pressure from everyone at that hearing. They didn’t want us to be in a different area,” Murphy said. “Maybe it’s discrimination. Maybe it’s not. I felt like it was.”

Lindsey Wiles, spokesperson for the city of Marietta, said the decision to not transfer the license was made based solely on the parking requirements.

“It was denied over parking requirements. All nightclubs must have one space per 125 square feet. And this location would not meet that,” she told the GA Voice. “I’m sorry he thinks [the decision was made due to anti-gay discrimination] but it was simply denied due to parking.”

Murphy said the location on Wylie Road is 4,000 square feet.

“That would be 32 parking spaces. But there is a 3-acre lot and we are only one of two businesses that would be open after 6 p.m.,” he said.

Murphy said he didn’t have time to appeal the city’s decision so the current LeBuzz was renovated and the front door was relocated so people would not have to enter near the new bar.

$10,000 fundraising campaign underway

EDITOR’S NOTE: Murphy called the GA Voice Friday to say the $10,000 fundraiser on is to raise money specifically for the Health Initiative and that Marietta Pride is already paid for. He said none of the money raised via would be used to pay for expenses.

Last weekend was the first weekend for Marietta Pride and attendance was low, Murphy admitted.

Project Q Atlanta noted in a Sept. 16 story that “Murphy and Marietta Pride are closely linked: His bar hosts the Pride festival and he is president of the North Georgia Rainbow Coalition, which oversees the annual festival each summer. Murphy is also listed as the registrar for Marietta Pride’s website and the GoFundMe campaign says donations go directly to him.”

Murphy said he is listed as the website’s registrar because he designed it and the campaign’s donations will be used to pay for Marietta Pride with proceeds after expenses going to the Health Initiative.

The North Georgia Rainbow Coalition was registered with the Secretary of State as a nonprofit in on June 4, 2010, and is active. The principal office’s address is the same as LeBuzz’s address and Michael Gaeta is the registered agent.

“All funds go to the Health Initiative. That money is not going to me. I’m trying to do anything I can for the Health Initiative,” Murphy said.

Last year, Marietta Pride ran into financial problems as well when it pulled Brushstrokes as a major sponsor of the event after former Brushstrokes co-owner Tom Schloeder was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for possession of thousands of images of child pornography.

His full statement:

North Georgia Rainbow Coalition
585 Franklin Rd., Ste. #250, Marietta, GA 30067

To: All NGRC Board Members, Vendors, Sponsors, Volunteers, General Public
From: Johnathon Murphy

Re: Statement

Dear Friends,
I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has come out to support our efforts for Marietta Pride 2014 so far. We truly want to celebrate our diversity while raising money for this year’s beneficiary, the Health Initiative. All funds raised will be earmarked for use in our small community and North Georgia. We need your support now more than ever. We are committed to serving the LGBTQ community right here.

I know that dates and events have changed at it has been at the least, confusing. I also want to offer a public apology for these changes, and an explanation. Neither the NGRC board nor I wanted to make these changes, but really didn’t have a choice this year.

LeBUZZ is, and has been the host venue for our celebration since it started.

I am an owner and the managing partner of the venue. We founded the North Georgia Rainbow Coalition to give back and serve the community separately from the bar, although these organizations work in tandem.

LeBUZZ started experiencing real problems beginning in August 2013 when another venue opened next door. There were fights, assaults, gunshots, a rape, and lots of other issues. The Marietta Police Department has responded to over 30 separate calls since they opened. We tried to remedy the issues for our customers in many ways, but the situation continued to deteriorate.

In late April of 2014, I began scouting for new locations to permanently move the bar. We decided on a place very close, albeit a bit smaller on Wylie road in Marietta Commercial Plaza, just 0.2 miles up the street. I signed the lease and paid the deposits in late May after being assured by several Marietta officials that we could simply “transfer” our license, once all the paperwork was filed and the building was ready.

It was to be such an exciting time with an expansion of our Pride celebration and a brand new venue to host everything in. We had what I believed were the best laid plans. This 5th year was going to be the best ever for Marietta Pride. As you know, that didn’t happen.

Below is a timeline of events that transpired after.

• 5/30 – New Lease signed for 562 Wylie Rd.
• 6/07 – Application obtained for license transfer, demolition and construction began
• 6/20 – Fire Marshall requires sprinkler and pull down alarm system installation (at a cost almost $40k). New Assembly codes for 2014 were cited as the reason.
• 7/11 – Shopping center agrees to pay for half of sprinkler and alarm, interior painting, stage, and DJ booth completed. Interior walls removed.
• 7/15 – Hearing date for license moved to August 6th, Equality Run postponed to 2015, Pride Date (originally 8/02) moved to Sept 13, 2014. Fencing for patio started.
• 8/06 – Hearing before Marietta City Manager – met with opposition by several neighboring businesses, residents, and Methodist church. There were over 20 opposed that spoke and voiced their objections at the meeting. They brought pictures from our website and said that we would give Wylie road a black eye and increase crime. An attorney popped his head in and mentioned adult entertainment. It was clearly passive intimidation. My business partner Michael and I left the hearing wondering what had happened. We thought we had a good relationship with the city and the Marietta community.
• 8/07 – New location renovations suspended. We were told by city officials that we had legal precedence and that objections were a formality, but no reason why we shouldn’t be approved. The City Councilmen in the district for the proposed bar assured me by phone that it would be approved. We began to have grave concerns.
• 8/22 – Equality celebration in Glover Park postponed to June 2015. We were in limbo, not knowing whether we could move or even if the bar would survive if we didn’t.
• 8/29 – After waiting over 3 weeks on a decision the application was DENIED due to Marietta City Code Section 8-8-2-130-10, 716.07 E – Parking spaces required. There are over 3 acres of parking at this shopping center, and we would be one of only two businesses even open after 6pm in the evenings.
• 8/30 – Shopping Center elected to keep all deposits, construction abandoned at new location. LeBUZZ’s approximate loss for work completed and deposits -$25k plus months of labor and planning.
• 9/02 – NGRC Board meets again and tries to revamp and salvage Marietta Pride celebration with new format in current venue location. If we can’t move, then we must just do what we can from where we are. Cancellation is not an option!
• 9/8 – LeBUZZ undergoes our version of an extreme makeover. Front entrance moved to other side of building – away from neighboring bar, interior is redefined and separated.
• 9/12 – New back patio is installed and furnished. The new look is revealed.
• 9/13 – 2014 Marietta Pride kicks off with a couple of vendors, and multiple shows with volunteer performers, and the Divas Cabaret. Further events scheduled for every Saturday leading up to Friday 10/31/2014 for Marietta’s Season of Pride.

I have made some mistakes, I take full responsibility. Further, I have made some bad decisions and alienated friends throughout this mess, and for that I offer my sincerest apologies. I have let a lot of people down. We have enjoyed the support of our community in all 3 of my clubs spanning almost 20 years. In all that time, I have never felt such discrimination, heartbreak, and now for the first time fear in recent days.

To my knowledge, we are the only openly gay business in Marietta, GA. The North Georgia Rainbow Coalition is one of few charities, serving the community outside the perimeter. This is NOT Atlanta, we clearly do NOT have their level of acceptance. I’m quite certain that I am not the best leader, and absolutely not the best mouth piece, but I’m here; hoping that others will continue to help.

Although we only are 20 minutes from Atlanta, we are worlds away. When is the last time you saw a same sex couple holding hands outside of LeBUZZ in Marietta? Our local government says one thing, then behind closed doors, does another. They say it’s changed, but it’s not true. The Anti-Gay Resolution adopted in 1993 for Cobb County is still legal, it’s never been rescinded! We are told that they support the LGBTQ community to our face, but do you see a proclamation from the city endorsing any events? Yes, you can have same sex have benefits, you just have to die first. It’s ridiculous!

I will do continue to do my best to ensure LeBUZZ survives, so that we can provide a safe haven for those not able to be themselves publicly, or not “OUT” in our community. This is supposed to be a place where things happen, where we celebrate each other, and mix socially. Why should this business not expect a reasonable ability to function just like every other company?
Well, we can’t move out of this crappy neighborhood, so we have remodeled, moved the front door, and now I guess it’s time to change the crappy neighborhood!

In the meantime, we are continuing to celebrate Marietta Pride – for the entire Season, even though it’s only on private property…again. I hope this letter answers your many questions and restores some faith in what we are trying to accomplish. I am saddened, beaten, and tired. We have lost some major battles recently, and I feel like we must start all over. I’ve just been very naïve in believing that we had made progress in Cobb. I don’t know what we are going to do next, but I can assure you that we are NOT done. Happy 5th Annual Marietta Pride!

Johnathon Murphy
President/ Managing Partner – LeBUZZ
President/ Chairman – North Georgia Rainbow Coalition
North Georgia Rainbow Coalition
585 Franklin Rd., Ste. #250, Marietta, GA 30067