Lynn Koval and her sister, Lysa Broussard, wanted to pen a business in South Mississippi. It sounded like a good idea, except they wanted to pen a gay bar in South Mississippi where, Lynn Koval says she’s seen five gay bars fail in the past decade.
Not good business, maybe, but the sisters went ahead with their plan and opened Just Us Lounge on Division Street in Biloxi — which is where yours truly was born, by the way … not in the bar, I mean, but in Biloxi. But one thing they did a little differently than other gay bars in town, was that they decided to give back to the community in any and every way they could.
In fact, for the past 13 Christmases, Just Us Lounge has adopted every South Mississippi Angel Tree child with HIV or AIDS and the bar buys those kids every single thing on their “wish list.” Just Us Lounge has also donated turkeys to the Back Bay Mission in Biloxi and often host all kinds of benefits in their bar. Last month, Just Us hosted a benefit night for Walk for Down Syndrome and all the money from the cover charge was donated to the organization. Lysa Broussard hopes the benefit becomes an annual fundraiser.
"We are a viable resource, not just for the LGBT community but the entire community – period. As long as we can meet overhead, our goal is to give back to our community."—Lynn Koval
And for the record, Just Us has been in business since 1998 in Biloxi, and in 1999 the sisters merged Just Us with another bar Sanctuary. They wanted Just Us to provide a safe social gathering place for the LBT community in South Mississippi, but when the bar opened the sign out front welcomed all people, gay and straight.
Now, it wasn’t always nice and sweet. When Just Us first opened fifteen years ago, Lynn Koval was greeted at the front door by three hanging nooses; the bar has also been protested by white supremacists, but Lynn and Lysa weren’t giving up.
"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 Koval
And they’re closing in on that mark, making the club open to the entire community, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year. And they’ve hosted all kinds of people over the years, including Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway and LGBT servicemen and women who are stationed at nearby Keesler Air Force Base — where, yes, I was born.
Lysa Broussard says that the key to the success of Just Us, when many other gay bars have failed, is because of the unique Coast community, which she calls a more accepting melting pot community than is found in other parts of the state.
I don’t remember much about my time in Mississippi, not because I blocked it out, but because my family moved to California when I was six months old, but I’ve always been annoyed by the ignorance of some folks in the state, the bigotry, racism and homophobia of some people in the state.
Still it’s a pleasant surprise to hear of such an accepting place down in the southernmost part of a southernmost state where being gay isn’t any different, where the gays bars are community supporters, where people help one another out no matter your race or gender or orientation.
I might wanna go check out my birthplace, and a bar or two, as an adult one day.