Director Michael Ingram takes a clear-eyed look at the function
of the small town gay bar as a hub for community solidarity and
good old weekend fun in this award-winning, feature-length doc, now
out on DVD.
Set in the southern state of Mississippi, Small Town Gay Bar
focuses on two such hostelries - Rumors, in Meridian (population
39,968) and Crossroads, now relaunched as Different Seasons, in
Shannon (population 1,657).
Rick, who owns and runs Rumors, describes his relationship with
his devout Pentecostal parents: "I know they love me and they
accept me but I have never told them that I'm gay. If I told them
that, they couldn't accept that, so I've never told them that."
Every Thursday to Saturday his small roadside building welcomes
a steady stream of punters - LGBT and straight, black and white -
to dance, drink and generally let their hair down. And lord knows
they need to let off steam in this neck of the woods.
"Being gay in Mississippi is hard. It's very hard," says one
patron, describing his closeted working week playing the straight
guy in a crowd of straight guys. "The weekend belongs to us."
Crossroads is remembered as a place where "you can touch your
partner and feel somewhat relaxed," by one former regular,
betraying the huge difficulty with which people here let down their
guard. Again and again interviewees talk about the immense relief
of being able to let go and be themselves in a safe environment,
but many acknowledge the risk involved in simply pulling into the
"His lifestyle may not have set well with someone else," says
the brother of Scotty Joe Weaver, a young out gay man who was
tortured to death in neighbouring Alabama in 2004, his body
abandoned and burnt. Scotty's murder underlines the risk run by
both bar owners and patrons in a part of the world which condemns
more often than it accepts difference.
Predictably, Scotty's funeral was picketed by the hate-peddling
Westborough Baptist Church, whose mantra "God Hates Fags" is
described by leader Fred Phelps as "a serious profound theological
The beautiful, lyrical photography of Ingram's film runs at
stark counterpoint to the terrifying message peddled by hatemongers
like Phelps and local outfit, the American Family Association. "A
fool hath no delight in understanding," reads a deadpan biblical
quote on a billboard in a trailer park near Weaver's place of
"No advertising. Gravel parking lot. If you didn't know where it
was, you'd never find it. And you walk in and find 300 people like
you," recalls a former patron of Crossroads. No wonder maybe that
wild party times ensued and word soon got round about the anonymous
shack in the backwoods where anything went. "It became desperate.
It was like a circus," comments one woman.
The party ended when bar owner Butch was arrested, imprisoned
and eventually fined $1200. When he returned, Crossroads had been
trashed. "Now you have to drive 90 miles to go dancing."
When two women decide to relaunch Crossroads, there is a real
fear for their safety as they toil to rebuild the bar, but on
opening night everyone turns out to support them in their mission
to give the community a place to call their own again.
Small Town Gay Bar is one of those films that sticks with you.
If it's not the poetic footage of roadside bars, strip malls and
trailer parks sliding past as the car-mounted camera speeds by,
it's the emblematic courage of the men and women who people the
screen. Brave queer souls who make hitting the dancefloor on Friday
night a revolutionary act.
Small Town Gay Bar is released on June 25th, and
costs £8.99 from www.cannystore.com, www.amazon.co.uk and all good