Review by: Wik Wikholm
Reviewed on: September 01, 2010
Northeastern Mississippi, home of Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association and the birthplace of Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church fame, lacks the community centers, LGBT health clinics, Gay-Straight Alliances, open and accepting churches, and other institutions queer American urbanites take for granted. Instead, a few scruffy gay bars serve as social and community centers, drag show venues, hookup spots, and the only safe places for gay Mississippians to be open about their sexuality.
Small Town Gay Bar, a gritty documentary executive produced by Kevin Smith and directed by Malcolm Ingram, tells the recent history of several Mississippi gay bars and paints a vivid picture of queer life in a part of the country where homophobia is the norm and the closet is a prerequisite for survival for most glbtq people. The degree of homophobic hostility in the region is exposed at its most violent and tragic in the film’s interviews with the members of the family of Scotty Joe Weaver, an 18-year-old man tortured, decapitated, then burned in nearby Bay Minette, Alabama because of his homosexuality.
Mostly, though, the film features interviews with the denizens of bars like Rumors, whose owner has never come out to his family; Crossroads, a bar with a checkered and sometimes raunchy past; and the Tulip Creek Bar, which, on a good night, boasts a crowd of about 125. One interviewee declaims that "The weekend belongs to us"; another praises the bars for allowing him and his friends to "be whatever you want" despite the knowledge that the local sheriff could--and does--raid the bars at will.
The film gives a voice to the men and women of Northeastern Mississippi who describe how they make do and even thrive in one of the most homophobic regions of the United States. Small Town Gay Bar will be especially eye-opening for urban young people who may never have imagined what life is like for gay men, lesbians, and transgender people in places like Lee County, Mississippi.