By Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
Malcolm Ingram directed an award-winning documentary in 2006, “Small Town Gay Bar,” that dug into the cultural existence of gay bars in rural Mississippi. As some of the only safe places for LGBTQ people in the Deep South, this film showed how bigoted forces in higher places continue to repress LGBTQ rights. After the election of Donald Trump (which spurred LGBTQ hatred in the region) and the Pulse nightclub shooting, Ingram went back down to Mississippi to document two lesbian bar owners in Biloxi and Hattiesburg as they tried to hold the region’s first Pride events in their small-town history.
In his latest documentary, “Southern Pride,” Lynn Koval is the white owner of Just Us Lounge in Biloxi, the oldest gay bar in the state. Shawn Perryon Sr. is the black owner of Club Xclusive in Hattiesburg. Both of these women decided to hold inaugural Pride celebrations in wake of the “open season” mentality fired up by the current administration, Mississippi’s Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, the Pulse shooting and the murders of three Gulf Coast transgender women. The film begins at Trump’s inauguration.
In the beginning of the documentary, Koval and Perryon Sr. do not know each other, and have no idea that each of them are striving for the same things: unity within their local LGBTQ community, visibility, and a connection with the rest of the community so that they can see who they are and hopefully come to understand that they are people who deserve the right to live as they choose.
Being in Biloxi for so long, Koval had built many local ties to the people. The bar was active in helping not only the LGBTQ population, but the township as a whole. When Just Us Lounge was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, the community came and helped her rebuild it, many of them doing so before returning to their own homes to rebuild. And it showed that this bar was much more of a family than a place. But this did not sway Koval’s vision for a Pride celebration at the Gulf Coast.
In the meantime, Perryon Sr. decided to hold Hattiesburg’s first Unapologetic Black Pride. It had nothing to do with racial separation, rather Perryon Sr. believed that there was so much division within the black LGBTQ community that she felt she had to help them learn unity among themselves before they were ready to include themselves in a larger Pride celebration.
Though both stories eventually intertwine, this is a stark look at what two persistent women will go through to make a difference. Neither task is an easy one and both of them hit several roadblocks. But filmed over nine months, this film gives a phenomenal insight into the LGBTQ culture of the Deep South and dives not only into their triumphant moments, but also deep into their worst fears of living in such a repressed state.
Director Malcolm Ingram said that after filming “Small Time Gay Bar,” the Pulse shooting and Trump’s election, he knew it was time to go back. From the urban areas of Toronto, Canada, Ingram said he loved the South and that it is an interesting place for him. After reflecting on how important these bars are to the community in the South as safe places, he wanted to see what was happening with the radical shift in America’s politics through the lens of small towns putting on their first Pride events.
“We were filming with Lynn Koval at Just Us Lounge and found out about Club Xclusive through its Facebook page,” Ingram said. “It has a really low-key, inset presence. So we decided to drive up there and Shawn [Perryon Sr.] had a very interesting take on things and we connected very well. I understood her message. She was concerned with her community and what was going on with it. She wanted to get her own community in check before they went under the umbrella of a full Pride. She wanted to be there to support her smaller community. The sense I got was that the black community has more complicated issues within its culture when it comes to sexuality. I don’t want to speak for the black community, but Shawn understood those complexities.”
Ingram said he gets it.
“I’m a big, fat white guy,” he continued. “I felt very outside of the gay community for a very long time and I still do find it very difficult to fit in. I feel that a lot of gay people are apathetic now. At a time when we are in crisis, not just in America, but in the world today, [it’s] terrifying. The rise of religion, not only Christianity, but like, the Muslim religion — these are very conservative religions. I don’t think the way forward in the world today is in the embracing of conservative religions. That’s not our way out of the problems we are facing right now. I don’t like people that hide behind religion. I don’t believe in dogma. I very much believe in spirituality. And I literally believe the root to all evil is organized religions.”
Ingram said the world is getting to a place where worldly events are so intense in politics, climate change and the repression of minority groups, that things like LGBTQ rights are getting pushed aside because the world has become like a “dumpster fire.” He said with so many things going on across the globe that people don’t know what to address anymore because there too much going on.
“Nobody in our own queer community seems ready to pick up the flag and fight the fight like was done in the past,” Ingram said. “We own the rights of privileges that our past gays gave us. Our past brothers and sisters fought very hard for the rights that we are all very lucky enough to enjoy. There are plenty of people out there taking the flag and running with it, but it doesn’t seem to be the norm right now when it should be. I think it is our responsibility as queer people to fight equally hard to maintain those rights for the next generation. We have to leave it better than when we got it.”
Ingram said a lot of progress has been made in the queer community, but it feels like many progresses that we have made are slipping away.
“I hope that there are more Lynn Kovals and Shawn Perryons to pick up where things left off because we are headed to a very scary place,” Ingram said. “Especially in the South. The South gets dumped on a lot and it’s horrible to see liberals making jokes about the South. We all have our crosses to bear, we all have our fights to fight. Look at what’s happening in the South with abortion rights now.”
Ingram said there are a lot of great people in the South and it is like any other place — it has its good and its bad. But he believes the South is incredibly misunderstood.
“And there are people there like Shawn and Lynn who are willing to fight the fight and these people need to be supported,” Ingram said. “What we don’t need is people blankly targeting places in the South like Mississippi and Alabama and calling them ignorant rednecks. What we should be looking for is a fundamental understanding of these places instead of just pushing them aside. I love the South and find it incredibly rich. It’s diverse, it’s complicated, but also it is full of a lot of incredibly wonderful people that are doing their best with the situation they are handed and fighting the fight. That is what this movie is about.”
“Lynn Koval is a fighter,” Ingram continued. “She’s been fighting for her community for decades. She has been at the front line of this battle. These two bar owners are remarkable people, and though it wasn’t intentional, this film is populated by women. It is the women that are leading the charge. [Like in the AIDS crisis], it was the drag queens and lesbians that stepped in. And you know what? It is going to be the drag queens and the lesbians that step up and get us out of this shit we are in. God bless the drag queens and the lesbians because they are the ones that are going to save us.”
— Albert Fulcher can be reached at email@example.com.