By Guest Reviewer Pam's House Blend
At the last NC Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, I saw small town gay bar, a documentary by Malcolm Ingram (it was exec produced by Kevin Smith, yes, the director of Clerks). It was a wonderful look at what social life is like for gays in the rural South. I mean really rural -- the two Mississippi bars profiled were in Shannon (pop. 1,657) and Meridian (39,968). Durham, for comparison's sake has an estimated pop. of 204,845.
Watching this film is like going back in time if you live in a progressive area or large city; the closet is a necessity here, as you might imagine. Being out can be a death sentence for these people. The bar is their only refuge, their only time to let their hair down, be themselves and feel safe to be who they are, as gays, lesbians, trans, black, white -- all that matters is that you know you aren't alone. Drag queens had a home to perform out and proud at Rumors and Crossroads (now called Different Seasons).
The audience howled as Ingram interviewed the unhinged Rotting CryptkeeperTM Fred Phelps. Fred was his animated self, talking about "fanning the flames of fag lust" and it was clear he's energized and surprised by "all the fags that come out to protest him."
The Phelps Klan picketed the funeral of Scotty Joe Weaver, who was killed right next door in Alabama. The 18-year-old out gay teen, known to many at the Mississippi bars, was murdered by a trio of backwoods homobigots; he was tied to a chair in his trailer, beaten, stabbed, and partially decapitated. His body was dumped in the woods and then set on fire. No wonder these people remain closeted.
And since this is Mississippi, Ingram had to stop by the HQ and nexus of homohate, Don and Tim Wildmon's American Family Association, which is in Tupelo. Interviewees said that Tim Wildmon and the AFA had people scoping out a local bridge in a small town in Mississippi taking down the tag numbers of people who were going over the bridge to go to the gay bar.
The next day on his radio show, Don would read the tag numbers on the air. This, he said, "would keep people accountable." Evil does exist.
One of the queens in the film (who does drag at the bars by night and is a veterinary tech by day), and the sister of one of the bar owners, said that the Wildmons are a bunch of hypocrites because they have a homo sitting right there in the family circle.
And that's no surprise, is it?
You may ask, why on earth do these gay folks stay in these tiny towns? They are subjected to the possible loss of a job if someone outs you, shunning by family, or worse, you end up like Scotty Weaver. Kate and I talked about this for a while [QB note: Kate is Pam's wife], but it's pretty clear that for many gays in rural areas, their fear of living in a hostile world like this is actually less stressful than the thought of living in a large, urban environment. The "big city" for them may be a 2-3 hour drive away, and it seems an inhospitable, cold place in comparison to the world they know and make for themselves. back home, hidden in the shadows of bars tucked away, deep in the woods.
It's both easy and difficult to understand. But the overwhelming theme running through this film is that we are everywhere. No matter how tight the bible belt is pulled, your tiny town has LGBT citizens, and they are making their space. The battle for survival and to be out in small towns is the last frontier. It's coming, and people like Wildmon are desperate to lean on that closet door to keep it firmly shut with their hate tactics. In the end, these fundies are going to lose.