Atlanta Gay Bar Owners Face Racism Allegations

Burkhart's Pub in Atlanta, Georgia

The owners of Burkhart’s Pub in Atlanta, Georgia face allegations of racism after social media postings dating back to 2015 emerged this week showing a troubling pattern of derogatory language about people of color. Owners Palmer and Mary Marsh – both open Trump supporters – haven’t denied allegations against them and in at least one recent Facebook post, appear to have doubled down on use of race and ethnicity-based commentary as a response to the allegations.

Background

Discussion about the owners arose when this photo began circulating on Facebook over the last few days:

Palmer Marsh and Mary Marsh

After investigating the social media accounts of both individuals, most of these posts are real and still-posted (as of the writing of this article) messages. Here are the original social media postings we’ve been able to confirm:

We were not able to find the original posting for the Putin message above as it either never existed or has since been deleted or marked private/friends only. That said, in researching these, we came across other screenshots we were able to verify:

Reaction

Wussy – an Atlanta-area online queer publication – first reported on the allegations:

WUSSY was sent some damning screenshots by a former employee of one of Atlanta’s most popular drag bars, which appears to be from the Facebook of Burkhart’s Pub owner, Palmer Marsh. The posts date back to 2015, and the former employee, who chooses to remain anonymous, said the screencaps were sent to them by a fellow employee.

The screencaps have recently been making the rounds on Facebook, causing many local community members to call for a boycott of the Atlanta gay staple.

Burkhart’s, which hosts popular drag nights Thursday-Sunday, boasting some of Atlanta’s most legendary queens, has been owned by Marsh for the last thirty years according to Georgia’s business registry. Former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants Manilla Luzon and Laganja Estranja are scheduled to appear there in the coming months.

They brought attention to one of the area’s performers – Amber Divine – who called out Palmer and Mary Marsh for their racism in 2015.

They noted:

Amber Divine, a former member of Atlanta’s oldest drag troupe, The Armorettes, took to Facebook last year to publicly express her feelings about Burkhart’s.

“Just so you’ll know the group has decided to leave the Hideaway and go back to Burkharts,” Divine wrote. “A decision that I did not support due to the fact that Burkharts is a racist bar it condones racism and uses the N-word predominately.”

Here’s the original Facebook post from Amber Divine as reported by Wussy:

Amber Divine commented on the Wussy article noting, “I still stand by my statement that i made in 2015.”

Speaking to several Atlanta locals, these allegations did not come as a surprise. On the contrary, the social media postings confirmed for many what they’d already heard within the community.

Offering a blunt opinion on the allegations, Niesha Dupree – also known as “The Empress Of Atlanta” – said in part, “This is something that entertainers have been dealing with for years. Not much will change because it’s not just the heart of the owner, it’s supported by some of the staff as well. I am glad it has been addressed but not much will change because nothing happened to Blake’s on The Park and they have the same thoughts.” She added, “It’s even demanded that the entertainers NOT do any hardcore rap because it brings the wrong element(blacks) to the establishments. I always find it funny that minorities who want respect and to be treated equal; find it comfortable discriminating.”

Reaction to the social media postings has raised so much concern, local LGBTQ group ATL Activate organized a meeting scheduled for next Saturday, January 27 to address the issues. In the Facebook event page for the meeting they state, “It’s come to light this week that the owners of Burkharts, a longstanding ATL gay bar, have a history of and are currently actively spreading racism online and potentially in their establishment.” They went on to add:

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss what we learn over the next week and our ongoing series of organized actions and response. Brandon Sutton is graciously allowing us to host this at his meeting space, Illuminarium. If our numbers get too big then we will move locations. Please invite anyone who cares to face hate or discrimination in our ATL LGBT community head on. We should all be united in our concern, our sadness and our resolve to make things right as a welcoming, loving and accepting group of people.

In a statement published by The Georgia Voice, Burkhart’s General Manager Don Hunnewell said:

As general manager of Burkhart’s, I will honor my employment contract and personal commitment to overseeing the day to day operations of Burkhart’s.

Burkhart’s staff, entertainers, cleaning and maintenance crews have served Burkhart’s with dedication and hard work for many years and these 50 plus souls often live tip jar to tip jar. Yesterday it took everything I had to soldier on and not terminate my employment agreement.

As general manager, my first obligation is to maintain and care for the hard-working staff who have dedicated many years to serving a huge loyal customer base that have become very close to the staff from years of pouring not just drinks, but pouring from theirs hearts.

The awesome staff I have the privilege to lead each day deserve so much better. It’s because of this dedicated staff that I too must soldier on today.

I have an immediate obligation to those dedicated souls and once their lives are stabilized I will seek new opportunities. In the meantime, I will maintain the daily operations and will happily deliver any and all purchase offers. Palmer and Mary Marsh have been retired since I arrived as GM and have had no active participation in the operations. I am honored to have such a high level of complete trust, but this is not what I signed up for.

I am proud of the Burkhart’s team and the loyal patrons. I will now pack for a much needed vacation that was planned months ago.

It should be noted that while Palmer and Mary Marsh may be “retired” from actively managing the bar, as owners they still receive all profits from sales.

Boycott Controversy

Part of the problem with organizing a boycott against an LGBTQ establishment is what happens to those left in the crossfire: entertainers and employees who oppose racism but still need to make a living.

Edie Cheezburger – who hosts and entertains at Lips – Atlanta, another Atlanta area bar – had this to say:

So I’m kind of curious about what people are suggesting for entertainers who make a living at Burkharts do if this boycott actually happens. For a lot of entertainers, there’s nothing to fall back on. There’s no sick leave or vacation unless it comes out of our pockets. There are several performers there who rely on that as their primary source of income. Not to mention the bartenders, staff and cooks that work there. While I completely agree that the actions by the owners are deplorable, what can we expect the community to do for those who are caught in the crossfire?

While many sympathized, one commenter put it succinctly:

These “people in the crossfire” need to take sides too. You’re either ok with working for a neo-confederate, or you’re not. There are other bars to tend and venues to perform at. If you’re not taking a strong stance against this type of behavior from business owners in the community, and especially if you’re being paid by them, you’re complicit in it.

Which is to say, any response that doesn’t begin with refusing to give money to support open racism isn’t the right answer.

Whether the right answer is a change in ownership or the collective protests of those working there, action should be taken.

After all, fear of being too “politically correct” and rocking the boat rather than facing hate and racism head on is a large part of how Donald Trump won the presidency in November 2016. Now is not the time to allow racism a venue to collect money and continue festering unchecked.

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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