“Small Town Gay Bar,” a 2006 documentary that tells the story of two gay bars in Mississippi and the communities that convene there on weekend nights, played at Oxford Film Festival this past Friday at the Malco Oxford Commons with a panel featuring the director and documentary subjects from the film directly afterwards.
Malcolm Ingram’s documentary visits two bars, Rumors, in Shannon, and Crossroads, in Meridian. Interviews with the patrons reveal the extent of the refuge that the two bars provided and still provide for the gay community in the Bible Belt.
A Toronto native, Ingram filmed the documentary during the course of December 2004, and it became a part of his own coming-out process.
“One of the things that really attracted me to the notion of a small-town gay bar was the concept of community,” Ingram said. “I really liked the fact that this was a small-town gay bar.”
Ingram’s hometown boasts all types of different bars for the LGBTQ+ community, but in a small town, the gay population is more compressed and forced to become a community.
“What I really love, essentially, is that in a small-town gay bar, there’s one bar,” he said. “Everyone’s got to get along and appreciate, respect and love the concept of this one umbrella that everyone has to get along under and create a community.”
The documentary begins by focusing on Rumors but travels across the state to Crossroads, a much rowdier establishment. It later touches on the murder of Scotty Weaver, an 18-year-old from Bay Minette, Alabama, whose sexual orientation was a factor in his brutal death.
“For me, it was just that I owned a bar,” the then-owner of Rumors, Rick Gladish, said. “I worked a full-time job, and three nights a week, I went and put up with drag queens and a lot of drunk kids. But it was a fun adventure. That was eight years of my life that I truly enjoyed.”
Now Rumors is a church, and at this fact Gladish sassily commented, “At least people are still on their knees.”
Controversial commentary from American Baptist minister Fred Phelps is featured in the film, juxtaposed with tongue-in-cheek humor from members of the small-town Mississippi gay community.
“By the very nature of small-town gay bars, a lot of people don’t want to be filmed. We didn’t even know what we were going to get when we came down here,” Ingram said. “We had no idea what was going to happen, but in one month, we had a gay bar transitioning, a gay bar reopening and so much activity happening in that period. It was a wonderful thing to witness.”
The film features honest, raw and sometimes sassy commentary from regulars at the two bars who describe the joints as “my escape from reality.”
The bars are safe havens of bright lights, colorful drinks and outrageous garb surrounded by towering Mississippi pines and red clay. They’re places where anything goes and the clientele feel safe—a feeling that can be rare in some Deep South towns.
“The people we met, their absolute honesty and the journeys they have been on…It was a privilege to make this film,” Ingram said.