“SMALL TOWN GAY BAR”– real people, real places

“Small Town Gay Bar”

Real People, Real Places

Amos Lassen

We are witnessing a strange period in our history. Gay marriage has become a major, albeit divisive, issue in the world of politics today and it is evident that the fight for civil rights is still being waged. This is especially true in the southern United States, in small towns. Those who live in these areas do not have the same outlets that members of their communities have in bigger cities and in many cases they face hatred and cruelty n a daily basis. The only place they can feel safe is behind the four walls of the local gay bar and here is what “Small Town Gay Bar” is about.

The film gives us an inside and intimate look at two small town gay bars in Mississippi and we learn about the physical place and the people who go there. The proprietors, in many cases, struggle against strong odds to maintain their place in very hostile territory and throughout the film the bar patrons show their gratefulness. We see a lot of dancing, a lot of drinking and good times but more than everything else we see a family being created. Directed by Malcolm Ingram, joy and pain are balanced and we are brought to know what oppression means as well as how wonderful it is to find a community.

The GLBT community in Mississippi lives deep in the heart of the Bible belt. Those who are open about their sexuality not only face rejection from their “friends” and family but sometimes violence as well. Religious organizations regard them as abominations and doom them to hell, both here on earth and afterwards. The ONLY place they cam find any kind of acceptance is the local bar which acts as an adoptive family and gives them support and understanding in a culture that would rather see them gone.

“Small Town Gay Bar” is not only about gay people but more importantly about the struggle for human rights in today’s America. It carefully examines various issues that our community faces through skillfully interwoven vignettes that show the struggle and does so by looking at two gay bars in Mississippi—“Rumors” in Shannon and “Different Seasons” in Meridian. Here is the story of real people in real places and how they build a community—a “family of love and acceptance in a world that has offered them none”. The film looks at the owners, the patrons and the employees of the bars in a humanizing fashion and as we look into the eyes of these people we cannot help but feel the pain they feel as they have endured the hurt of the society around them. And we rejoice when we see them find acceptance and we realize that they are us.

It is hard to imagine being gay in a town like Shannon, Mississippi with a population of only 1657 people or in Meridian which as a larger population of 40,000. I can’t imagine having to keep my sexuality a secret and not being allowed to be who I am—although I have found some of that here in Little Rock, Arkansas. I have not had to face attacks or public exposure from the religious right or extreme prejudice like my brothers and sisters in Mississippi.

Ingram gives us a short history of rural gay bars that have come and gone and exposes the hypocrisy of the Redneck south. We learn of hate crimes that have not been solved—of brutal beatings and stabbings and murder and decapitation. Then we learn how the local bars function as places of hope and acceptance as alternative families to those who come to them. Ingram even asks his subjects why they choose to stay in the places where they are so hated and we hear their answers which many times are heartbreaking.

This is such an important look at the America that many of us are unaware of. Many of us have never had to endure what these people have endured but we should know about it and help others find new ways so that they can be who they are.

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