Review of “Small Town Gay Bar”

The phrase “We are everywhere” gets bandied about frequently when talking about the GLBT community. In every sector of society, every geographic location, every religion, every background, you can find queer Americans. But if you were to go by the American movies at gay film festivals or in the gay section of your video store, you’d think that 95% of all gay men live in L.A., San Francisco, New York, or Chicago. (You’d also think that the other 5% were sexy farmers ready to shuck their overalls at a moment’s notice.)

That’s what makes Malcolm Ingram’s documentary Small Town Gay Bar (Red Envelope Entertainment, $24.95) so very refreshing. Featured at Sundance and winner of Best Documentary prizes at the Miami and Los Angeles gay film festivals, Gay Bar takes a revealing look at a facet of American queer life that is all but ignored by the mainstream media.

Ingram introduces us to the denizens of two Mississippi bars that have managed to flourish in the heart of the reddest of red states, with a clientele that includes everything from lip-syncing drag queens to pickup-driving lesbians. And while we’re used to seeing movies about young men and women leaving their hometowns behind to live their lives openly in a big city like Chicago or Dallas, Gay Bar shows us the people who have decided to stay in their hometowns but still stake out the life that they choose to live.

Because these communities are so small and not particularly gay-friendly, the queer folk who live there rely upon each other to create a sense of belonging, of family, of togetherness. And so, in banding together in areas where the threat of discrimination and violence remains all-too-present, these Mississippians create a paradigm for gay life that their urban counterparts would benefit in emulating.

When’s the last time you went into a big-city gay bar and saw butch dykes and flamboyant queens sharing the same space? Or, for that matter, queers of different colors? Ingram’s film reminds us that just because urban gays have the luxury of unspoken segregation, it doesn’t mean it’s a condition to which we have to aspire.

Small Town Gay Bar in no way white-washes the downside of between-the-coast queerdom, focusing briefly on the murder of Scotty Weaver, a young man in Alabama who was tortured and killed due to his sexual orientation. The documentary even pays a visit to fire-breathing homophobe Rev. Fred Phelps. But it’s that awareness of the reality of life in the Bible belt that makes this documentary so fascinating.

Ingram never condescends to these small-towners (or worse, try to present them as “plucky”); they simply embody the Constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness and demonstrate the strength to fly their personal rainbow flags high.

The DVD does justice to the film by featuring plenty of terrific extras, particularly two hilarious conversations between Ingram and his executive producer Kevin Smith, the latter claiming to love gays “but not in that bi-curious bear way.”

The film features many memorable interviewees, including Rick Gladish, the owner of Shannon, Miss., bar Rumors; Lum Weaver, whose recollections of his murdered brother Scotty are achingly poignant; Butch Graham, former owner of the notoriously decadent Crossroads, whose anything-goes attitude and secluded location made it a scandalous favorite among locals; and, particularly office worker Jim Bishop, who – in his drag persona as "Alicia Stone" – rattles off Small Town Gay Bar’s best one-liners.

Also included on the disc is a chat with co-editor Scott Mosier, a commentary by Ingram and “principal technical officer” Scott Tremblay, and a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of Rumors, one of the two bars featured in the film. (One deleted scene that would have been nice to see is the film’s original ending, which was changed between its run on the festival circuit and its release on DVD. But this is a minor omission.)

Small Town Gay Bar is a must see, especially if you’ve got “RFD” in your mailing address, or if you think that Queer as Folk and The L Word are apt representations of the entire gay community.

Duralde is the author of 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men.