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How One Tiny Gay Bar Offers Refuge In The Most Homophobic State In America

by Graham Gremore July 23, 2016


Mississippi may not be known for its progressive politics or its welcoming attitude towards gay people or its willingness to change, but it is still home to many members of the LGBTQ community.

A fascinating article published by the Washington Post takes readers inside WonderLust, a one-year-old gay bar in Jackson that bills itself as the city’s “hottest LGBT nightclub.”

Related: This Mississippi Teen Is A High Schooler By Day And A Drag Queen At Night

Jesse Pandolfo, a 32-year-old lesbian, is the owner the bar, which is located inside a nondescript one-story concrete building on a deserted side street on the north end of town. Originally from Boston, Pandolfo calls living in the delta “kind of a time warp.”

“You have to live kind of an edited version of your life,” she says.

Which is precisely why WonderLust is so necessary. The bar regularly hosts dance parties, drag shows and karaoke nights, providing an outlet for a community living on the frays of society.

Mississippi state law offers no discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, nor does it address hate crimes based on gender identity or sexual orientation, and lawmakers seem to constantly be looking for ways to further marginalize the gay community.

Related: Federal Judge Rules Mississippi Can Begin Legal Discrimination July 1

WonderLust patron Sham Williams tells the Washington Post that Mississippi is perhaps “the most racist and bigoted state in America,” adding “when I walk out that door I have three strikes against me–I’m black, gay and a woman.”

But despite all that, she has no intentions of leaving.

“Mississippi is home,” she says, “even if it doesn’t always feel like it. I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

It’s a concept those who have never actually visited the state or felt the pull of the land or seen the many good things amongst all the bad will likely understand, but it’s a sentiment shared by many.

“I stay here because I’m from here and I love it,” Rob Hill, who works as the state director for the Human Rights Campaign, says. “I’m 41, and I want the best for this state and I fight for it. I think we’re better than what our legislators have demonstrated.”

Check out a gallery of images from inside WonderLust.

Graham Gremore
Graham Gremore


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