South Mississippi gay bars have found success by giving back to the community

jmitchell@sunherald.comOctober 26, 2013 

The Other Bar's house drag queen, Jayda White, hosts Drag Queen Bingo every Wednesday evening at the establishment, located on 25th Avenue in Gulfport.

JUSTIN MITCHELL — SUN HERALD

In South Mississippi, where Lynn Koval has seen five gay bars fail in the past decade, three such clubs have found success by becoming part of the community by giving back to it.

Koval and her sister, Lysa Broussard, own Just Us Lounge on Division Street in Biloxi and say it's more than just a gay bar.

For the past 13 Christmases, Just Us Lounge has adopted every South Mississippi Angel Tree child with HIV or AIDS.

"We buy them everything on their wish list," Koval said.

From donating turkeys to the Back Bay Mission in Biloxi to hosting benefit nights at the lounge, Koval and Broussard rarely ever use the word 'no' when asked to give back to the community.

On Sept. 18, Just Us hosted a benefit night for Walk for Down Syndrome. The money from the cover charge was donated to the organization. Broussard said the benefit will become an annual fundraiser.

"We are a viable resource, not just for the LGBT community but the entire community -- period," Koval said. "As long as we can meet overhead, our goal is to give back to our community."

Just Us has been open on Division Street since 1998. Broussard and Koval opened a separate bar, Sanctuary, in 1996. The two bars merged in 1999.

Just Us opened its doors to provide a safe social outing spot for the South Mississippi gay community, but Koval said she used to have a sign that welcomed both gay and straight patrons to the bar.

However, the bar has seen fierce opposition.

When Just Us first opened, Koval said she was greeted by three hanging nooses on the door one day when she arrived to open up. Koval said the bar was also protested by white supremacists.

"I told my staff that if a Molotov cocktail didn't come through our doors the first year, we would be open for 20 years-plus," Koval said.

Fourteen years later, Just Us still keeps its doors open to the entire community 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year.

"We only close if a hurricane is coming and they knock on the door and make us leave," Broussard said.

Broussard and Koval agreed that all walks of life are represented at Just Us.

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway spent a day at Just Us

for a benefit event, and military servicemen and women frequent the bar because it is close to Keesler Air Force Base.

"We get busy in the early morning hours because casino workers and service industry workers come in for a free shift drink," Koval said.

Broussard said that Just Us has been kept alive for so long because of the unique Coast community.

"The Coast is a melting pot," she said. "Our entire community is more accepting."

Koval said that she has seen many gay bars open and close their doors over the years, but she is committed to keeping Just Us open.

'Other' fun in Gulfport

Wednesday night bingo at The Other Bar in Gulfport isn't your grandmother's bingo. There are no markers, fanny packs or troll dolls, but instead beer bottle tops, cocktails and Jayda White, house drag queen and show manager.

White starts the night with a song performance and stand-up comedy set before she takes her seat to call out bingo markers.

"We're starting the night with B-9," White said on a recent Wednesday. "For the first round of Drag Bingo, you can get bingo anyway you can, whether it's horizontal, vertical or diagonal."

At bingo, there is no cover, and the cards are free.

"It's basically a two-hour drag show," said Ellis Pickle, manager at The Other Bar.

Pickle said prizes at bingo come from local businesses who support the gay community.

The Other Bar is on 25th Avenue near downtown Gulfport.

"There are no other gay bars in Gulfport," Pickle said. "The owners are straight, and we work hard to cater to the gay community."

The bar has an open-concept floorplan with a bar illuminated by bubbles that change colors. In the left-hand corner of the bar, there is a sitting area with leather couches, tables and a wall of framed photos of iconic figures who are gay or support the gay community. Dancers perform in an illuminated cage on Saturday nights.

Pickle said since he took over as manager nearly four months ago, business has been increasing.

"We're packing it out every single weekend," he said. "We have gay and straight clientele."

The Other Bar prides itself on offering a safe place to go out and have fun.

"We have an inviting atmosphere," Pickle said. "If you offer a safe, comfortable environment with great entertainment and great drinks, the people will come."

The Other Bar holds events or shows every day it is open.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, there are drink specials and on weekends, there are almost always drag shows.

Pickle said that the shows draw gay and straight people alike.

"It's all about the atmosphere," he said.

Veaux in the Vieux

Since February 2011, Club Veaux in the Vieux Marche in downtown Biloxi has had its doors open to serve the gay community. "We are primarily a gay bar, but certainly we cater to the straight community as well," said head bartender Suzie Moore.

Located less than two miles from Just Us, Moore said that business at the bars feed off each other.

"The idea for the bar was based on location," Moore said. "We share a lot of business with Just Us."

On Friday nights, Club Veaux offers a $10 cover charge with free draft beer and liquor from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Various happy hours and drink specials are offered nightly.

"Fridays are insane here," Moore said.

Moore said the bar will never close before 3 a.m. to cater to the late-shift crowd.

Moore said it's important for South Mississippi residents to support the three gay bars in the area.

"The Coast doesn't have much else to offer to the gay community other than what we bring," Moore said.

Club Veaux is planning to remodel over the next six to eight months to include a gaming area and new decor, but their doors will remain open.

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