Southern Pride Review: A Tale of Two Lesbian-Owned Bars

Southern Pride film review

Southern Pride is a tale of two gay bars. Both bars are lesbian-owned, which has become increasingly rare. Both run in Mississippi. And both play a vital role in their local communities. But Just Us is owned by a white woman, Lynn. And Club Xclusive is owned by a Black woman, Shona. The legacy of segregation lives on in the south, even among the LGBT community. And Southern Pride follows these two extraordinary women on their journey towards inter-racial solidarity.

Just Us opened its doors in 1996, the first gay bar in Biloxi. At the time it was controversial. Even after two decades, Lynn says, some locals will only refer to her bar by its initials: J.U. Despite resistance, Just Us has turned into a thriving community space – largely thanks to the hard work of its owner, Lynn.

“Anybody that owns a gay bar, they need to seriously think about what they’re doing,” Lynn advises. “’Cause the moment you open your doors there is an immediate need, and if you’re not going to cater to the community which you serve and understand it’s more than a bar, you’ve missed the mark.”

True to her word, Lynn is a pillar of the community. She funds fundraisers, sometimes at a personal loss. She gives jobs to people down on their luck. She provides pastoral care, listening the way a good barman does. Many of her most loyal customers don’t have a family to fall back on. If somebody can’t afford medication, Lynn pays for it out of her own pocket.

Just Us is a place where people can live and love authentically, without fear of judgement or hate. And now Lynn aims to spread that message of acceptance by hosting the first Pride event on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Southern Pride creates an incredible sense of place. Through shots of sprawling highways and coastal scenes, biker churches and confederate flags, the documentary captures both the beauty of this area and the ugliness of its underlying social tensions. Heartfelt interviews with members of the community make it clear that these bars are a lifeline for LGBT people living in the Bible Belt. And, as the Trump administration erodes their rights and freedoms, these spaces become ever more important.

The joy and kinship that can be found in a gay bar is never more evident than in scenes showing Club Xclusive. Whereas the outside world carries the double jeopardy of racism and homophobia for their customers, this space Shona has curated is one of love. The stunning lighting, slick choreography, and sick beats showcase incredible creativity – the magic that is possible when marginalized people feel truly safe. And Shona is planning an event of her own – Black Pride.

But Southern Pride is well underway by the time we meet Shona and the crew of Club Xlusive. At times, Black lesbians feel like an afterthought in how this story is constructed. Shona is every bit as compelling a subject as Lynn. Her perspective on anti-violence and the role of elders in the community is fascinating. And it would have been great to hear more from her.

However, these two women do not get equal screen time. Scenes devoted to framing Lynn’s straight, Trump-voting sister as sympathetic would have been better spent exploring the vibrant Black community of Club Xclusive – the very people marginalized by the President she endorsed.

Unfortunately, this imbalance continues throughout the documentary. The Pride event organized by Lynn and co – a beautiful celebration – was positioned as the climax of Southern Pride. The Black Pride event co-ordinated by Shona and Club Xclusive looked every bit as wonderful. After all, it’s a space that’s free from the homophobia found in the het Black community, and the racism of white LGBT people. But we only see glimpses of Black Pride, scattered between the end credits. It is positioned as less significant, less worthy of attention, than a white-led space.

As Shona points out, LGBT people of color support white-led events but don’t get the same love in return. The biases of director Malcolm Ingram – a white man – filter through Southern Pride, determining who is prioritized and in what light they are shown. In spite of this failing, it’s a wonderful piece of documentation.

Southern Pride is most interesting when highlighting the incredible amount of work that goes into running grassroots events and building community spaces. Though Lynn and Shona’s stories give us a glimpse behind the curtain, the spaces they bring into being seem no less magical – in fact, knowing the hard graft and sheer love that made these spaces happen will bring viewers a new level of appreciation for their local gay bar.

Southern Pride is now streaming on HereTV as part of their social justice programming.