There were three nooses hanging on the door when Lynn Koval arrived at work one morning. The year was 1998 and the Just Us Lounge, on Division Street in Biloxi, Mississippi had just opened for business. Back then, there was tremendous opposition to the opening of a neighborhood gay bar, including a white supremacist group who targeted them.
“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,” Lynn told the Sun Herald.
It’s fifteen years later, and Just Us Lounge, the gay bar Lynn owns with her wife Tammy Lafontaine (that’s Tammy and Lynn on the left) and with her straight sister, Lysa Broussard, (below right) is still open for business in southern Mississippi, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
“We only close if a hurricane is coming and they knock on the door and make us leave,” Lysa said.
The White Supremacists have faded away, and no one leaves nooses for the three owners anymore. Lysa credits the community, saying:
“The Coast is a melting pot. Our entire community is more accepting.”
But truth be known, the reason the Just Us Lounge survived in an area you might expect fierce opposition to a gay bar, is its owners, who have made their bar an integral part of the community. The Just Us Lounge is a place its neighbors can turn to when they need help.
“We are a viable resource, not just for the LGBT community but the entire community, period.” Lynn said proudly. “As long as we can meet overhead, our goal is to give back to our community.”
In Biloxi, the Just Us Lounge has become the gay bar with the heart. The owners rarely say no to holding a fundraiser for a good cause, LGBT-related or not. On Thanksgivings, they donate turkeys for the Back Bay Mission. Last September they hosted a night benefitting the Buddy Walk For Downs Syndrome, donating the cover charge to the group. The owners have agreed to make Buddy Walk Night annual event.
The owner made friends with the straight community by welcoming the nervous strangers who came for the fundraisers, including servicemembers from nearby Keesler Air Force Base. And every morning workers from the nearby casinos come in for a free “shift change” drink. The Just Us Lounge is now s0 accepted in the community that the Republican Mayor of Biloxi, A.J. Holloway, made an appearance at a Just Us charity event.
But my favorite undertaking of Just Us Lounge, and the reason I decided to write about them today, is what they do at Christmas; a kindness they have generously undertaken for the last fifteen years. Just Us Lounge “adopted” every child with HIV or AIDS on the “Angel Tree” of the South Mississippi Aides Task Force for the first thirteen of those years, and from the Coastal Family Health Department for the last two.
“We buy them everything on their wish list,” said Lynn.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.