“Mississippi Queen” explores growing up gay in the South

When I was cleaning out my mother’s apartment after she died, I came across a yellowed, dog-eared piece of paper with the heading “My Daughter is a Lesbian.” Written by a mother whose heart was broken because of her daughter’s sexual orientation, the poem/prayer spoke of her grief, her prayers, her anguish — “What did I do wrong?” the mother wrote.

I was devastated. Not that I thought my mom had embraced my sexuality — she was a lifelong Southern Baptist, after all. But I thought we had come to a place of understanding. At least she had stopped trying to find me a husband. But she had never stopped praying that I would see the error of my ways.

Paige Williams has experienced the same kind of heartbreak from Christian parents who cannot accept her sexuality. She explores her feelings — and those of her folks Jerry and Judy — in her documentary Mississippi Queen.

In Williams’ case, her parents inability to accept their daughter’s “lifestyle” led to involvement with the ex-gay movement and eventual founding of In His Time, the only ex-gay ministry in Mississippi. They pray continually that God will deliver their daughter from sin. Paige, in turn, prays for her parents to realize that God loves her just as she is.

Williams, who now lives in Montana with her partner of 10 years, says that the idea for the documentary came from a simple desire to understand why her parents had begun their ministry and what exactly they were doing:

Whenever I open up with people about my relationship with my parents, everyone is curious and question how we get along despite our differences. My parents and I had certainly come a long way from mom chasing me with a gun and crying every night to where we were now. So I gathered a crew and ventured south to ask the tough questions, get some much-needed answers and give a personal look into this part of my strange world.

Mississippi Queen also explores the queer culture of the South, where “Jesus is as common as sweet tea.” Williams interviews gay individuals who go to church and love the Lord, others who have left the church completely and former gay people who believe homosexuality is a sin.

Here’s the trailer:


Williams says that what she found was so painful and overwhelming that she couldn’t look at the footage for a long time after she returned home. The next time she visited her parents, it was with Jack, their new grandson. To Paige’s surprise, Judy and Jerry were open and loving. Although the differences remain, the family is closer than ever. “We agreed to disagree,” Williams said, “and keep on loving each other.”

Mississippi Queen has been critically acclaimed since it hit the film festival circuit and will be shown for the first time in Missoula, Montana on Thursday night. The DVD can be pre-ordered now on the film’s website.

Can you relate to this story about coming out to Christian parents and friends? If you’re from the South, do you think things are getting easier for LGBT people in the Bible Belt?