Arts & Culture

She’s had a gay bar in Mississippi for 20 years. And she thinks Gen Z needs a lesson in LBGT history.

Lynn Koval, owns of Just Us Lounge, a gay bar that’s been open for 20 years. “Now, you have the question: Are gay bars relevant? Are they needed? I say yes,” Koval said.
Lynn Koval, owns of Just Us Lounge, a gay bar that’s been open for 20 years. “Now, you have the question: Are gay bars relevant? Are they needed? I say yes,” Koval said. amccoy@sunherald.com File

When Lynn Koval opened the doors to Sanctuary in the 1990s, she had a feeling the gay bar would make a name for itself in South Mississippi.

At the time, Koval said to herself, “If a Molotov cocktail doesn’t come through my door, we’ll be here for 20-plus years.”

Two decades later, the bar she calls a safe haven is still operating.

“I’ve always believed that there was a difference in owning a bar and owning a gay bar,” Lynn said during an interview for Out Here In America, a podcast that explores the lives of LGBTQ people living in the Deep South and America’s heartland. You can subscribe now on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

“When they open a gay bar, they own and serve a movement. They own and serve a community to which they are forever connected to.”

Lynn worked in several straight bars before opening her own place — she said it was a “war-like” situation for LGBT people at the time. It was not long after the AIDS epidemic swept through America, she said, and gay people did not have a place to go to be themselves. Tensions were high.

“We were getting the hell beat out of us, and we were whooping some ass,” she said. “The name of the game was to pull a queer into the front door and beat the hell out of him before anybody caught and let him go … that’s where it all began.”

Sanctuary is closed, but Koval opened Just Us in downtown Biloxi shortly after.

As one of the oldest gay bars in Mississippi, Just Us does more than just serve beer and cocktails 24/7/365. It’s a place where everyone comes in feels like family.

“It’s been a fun ride,” Koval said.

Recently, rights for LGBTQ people have been at the forefront of social justice efforts across America. President Barack Obama repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell;” gay marriage became legal across the United States; and Mississippi passed a controversial “religious freedom” bill that gives legal protection to businesses that discriminate against gay people.

Koval even hosted the city’s first-ever Pride parade in June.

But as the country progresses, where do gay bars fit in?

“Now, you have the question: Are gay bars relevant? Are they needed? I say yes,” Koval said.

In the season one finale episode, you’ll hear:

▪ What it was like opening a gay bar in Mississippi two decades ago

▪ How the meaning of a gay bar has changed over the years

▪ Why Koval thinks LGBT millennials and Generation Z need to put their phones down and support their communities

▪ Why Lynn Koval is proud of her two bars that changed the LGBT community in South Mississippi

▪ What happened when the first-ever Pride parade came to the Coast

▪ Why the Trump administration could make gay bars relevant again

▪ How the doors at Just Us remain open for anyone and everyone

▪ Why it’s so important to remember symbols like the rainbow and the upside down triangle

Have an idea for OHIA? Send questions and suggestions to jmitchell@sunherald.com.

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