Palmer Marsh on the porch that extends beyond the back patio at Burkhart's in 2007.  
Photo: Jenni Girtman/AJC file photo
Photo: Jenni Girtman/AJC file photo

Owner of Atlanta gay bar under fire after controversial posts surface

Several people are expressing outrage after controversial Facebook posts surfaced on the account of the owner of Burkhart’s Pub. 

Palmer Marsh, 70, has owned the gay and drag bar in Atlanta’s Ansley Square for decades. A screenshot that appears to show him using a racial slur about former President Barack Obama has been widely circulated in recent days. That post did not appear on Marsh’s page Tuesday afternoon. 

Other posts in the screenshot do appear on Marsh’s account, including one that reads: “If the South had won, we would be a hell of a lot better off.” Another says: “My Confederate money that I inherited is on my kitchen counter. RIGHT NOW! Steal the money, if you like, but don't try to take my flag because you might get seriously injured by doing so.” The posts are both from 2015.

Marsh did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday. 

A rambling post from Jan. 15 that referenced “under-the-radar racists,” electric vehicles and “the Chinese” was taken down or removed from public view Tuesday evening. Many people had left angry comments on the post.

Screenshot
Photo: BECCA J. G. GODWIN

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The screenshots were reportedly sent to online magazine Wussy from an anonymous former Burkhart’s employee. 

A current Burkhart’s employee said Monday that general manager Don Hunnewell was on vacation, and that no one else could comment. In a statement published on Georgia Voice Saturday, Hunnewell said that Marsh and his wife, Mary Marsh, are retired and “have had no active participation in the operations” since he arrived as general manager — but when that happened isn’t clear.

In response to Marsh’s Facebook posts, Hunnewell said it took everything he had “to soldier on and not terminate my employment agreement” and that he would soon seek new opportunities, once the employees’ lives are “stabilized.”

Commentary online is divided between those advocating a boycott of the business and those worried how it will affect the bar’s employees. 

Screenshot
Photo: Becca J. G. Godwin

Burkhart’s has long been a place for the gay community to gather in times of celebration and mourning. After the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando, hundreds gathered for a vigil in the bar’s parking lot. In 1993, Marsh credited his employees when the pub raised more than $20,000 for AIDS Walk Atlanta at its third annual country fair. At that event, which was attended by local politicians, his wife sat in a dunking tank and raised money by singing an a cappella rendition of "I Fall to Pieces" at the request of a donor.

But it appears the bar’s culture may not feel inclusive for everyone. 

Long before the recent controversy, drag queen Amber Divine said on Facebook that she would no longer perform at Burkhart's because the bar “condones racism and uses the N-word,” according to the Wussy article. A comment by her name last week reads: “I still stand by my statement that i made in 2015.” 


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LGBT activism group ATL Activate has organized a meeting to discuss the implications of the posts on Jan. 27. The owners of Burkhart’s “are currently actively spreading racism online and potentially in their establishment,” the Facebook event page says. 

More than 250 people have expressed interest in attending.

Burkhart’s is the latest Atlanta business to come under fire for controversial comments on social media. In late 2016, a boycott was launched against Buckhead nightclub Tongue and Groove after the co-owner posted a Facebook status calling hip-hop radio station V-103 “racist.” Shortly before that, an Atlanta-based employee at Bank of America was fired after posting a racist rant on Facebook. 


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