Editor’s Note: Many people comment on the coming out stories we post on here with words like “Congrats!” and “Welcome to the Family!”, but others respond with “Who cares!” and “Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to come out or make a big deal about it?” When we heard about this story originally and when we think about this amazing phone call, it was clear to see why it caught a lot of people’s hearts. For when we come out and when we speak our truth, it is not just us LGBT people coming out and living our true lives, but it often affects those around us in a profound way.
It all started with a random call to a gay bar that one of the bartenders took one evening, and it lead to quite the conversation.
The story went like wildfire as it crossed the world over and again.
Many of us read it, and our hearts were touched.
However, the story actually got much crazier, deeper, and truly wonderful and loving, more than any of us heard before.
So many parents what to do what’s right with their kids, especially try to handle their children coming out. It is amazing how forgiving gay kids can be when parents really don’t know what they are doing, but trying. In this case, the mother went to Kara, and was absolutely doing the right thing.
So let’s recap and learn more about that random call to a small gay bar in Mississippi that Kara Coley answered one night at SIPPS. You’ll see that Kara is a sweet, smiley, almost giddy bartender, who does her job well, in the way that just nails it for the rest of us. Thanks for all that you do Kara, we love you. Here is an excerpt of our time with Kara.
Jeremy Hinks: Thanks for taking the time, and I have to say, I know the Mississippi accent, and you have it. I’ll spend a lot of time in Eastern Mississippi, but have yet to get down to the Gulfport Mississippi area though, I can’t imagine a gay bar where I do business at.
Kara Coley: Yeah we definitely are different down here.
JH: Well, I usually cover music, but I loved reading your story and thought it would be a good one to feature as it gave everyone the “feel goods” when they read it.
KC: YEAY, that makes me happy.
JH: I can already tell that you are a happy smiley person, I hear it in your voice. But it also comes across when you type.
KC: I am, yes.
JH: But then again you’re a bartender, and you have to be a very special person to do that.
KC: Yeah, you have to see through the alcohol.
JH: Well, I have been told that the bartender is just a psychologist with a limited inventory.
KC: YES, that is very true.
JH: I’m sure you hear everyone’s stories, good and bad, I guess that’s part of the job, but were you really that surprised that someone called you for advice?
KC: I give advice every day, but the fact that a mom was calling the bar, that was shocking to me. I am often asked about a “friend’s kid” who “might be trans” or whatever, and that’s fine, but this was the first time, for the mom to call was a first. It was maybe a minute.
JH: I imagine that was shocking yes, but did you feel amazing afterwards?
KC: I kind of thought I was being pranked for a minute, but I thought about it my whole shift and then I went home and just typed it out on my phone, and I thought “Wow, that really happened, didn’t it.” Then the next day I was at work, and I noticed someone in China had shared the post, and I was really surprised.
JH: I have to say, I SO related to your story, cause I did similar. I went to Pride here in Salt Lake City, and there is a huge stigma about being gay here in Utah, and the LGBTQ teen suicides here are just an epidemic. So, I had this sign that said “Free Hugs From a Mormon Dad.” I just went around giving hugs to these kids whose parents had disowned them or whatever and just whispered to each one, “You are loved, you need to know that,” and asked them to stay with us, and that we wanted them to live wonderful lives. I went home, wrote a quick story about it, and took a nap, in a couple hours it had over a hundred views, likes, then in a week or so, almost 2 thousand shares. So, yeah, I know how it is to have a simple post go viral like that, people need to hear those stories.
KC: Yeah, it’s the small things, we just do small things because it’s just what we do and who we are to do those things. Then it turns out to be this big FEEL GOOD story for the whole world.
JH: Yes, you reached so many people like that, I mean I’m sure you were shocked for just talking about a brief conversation less than a minute. We need more people like that mom in the world.
KC: Yeah, it was an honest conversation, and the world does need more people like that mother, just willing to try to understand and willing to at least ask.
JH: Have you heard from her since?
KC: Oh yes, I have met her and her son now. They both live here in Gulfport, and she is an Uber driver, but she isn’t on social media. So she was doing a drop off at my bar one night, and she was telling her passengers that she called the bar one night when she needed advice for her son, and it happened to be the owner of the bar. And when she said that he got so excited he just came running into the bar, didn’t even pay her, and he runs behind the bar, and he dragged me outside then just said “THIS IS THE MOM”. So I hugged her, and we talked for a while, and she said “I know my son is under aged, but would it be ok if I brought him to meet you?” and I said it would be fine. So it was around 2 am and we were closing the bar, and they came and knocked on the door. I let them in, and I said to him “I need you to understand what you have done, I told the quick story on Facebook, and it has gone all over the world now.” I am friends with him on Facebook now, and apparently his mother had just died, and that was his foster mom that made the call, so that makes it even more of a “feel good” story.
JH: So now you are one of his favorite people in the whole world?
KC: YES, he is only nineteen, almost 20, and he tried to come into the bar one night … with a fake ID even. Security even knew who it was, they said, “Isn’t that … that kid?” I had to say, “Yes, it’s him, AIN’T HAPPENIN!”
JH: That is rather a fantastic development in the story. Had he heard of the story or read about it?
KC: He had seen it, but didn’t know it was him. There were a couple of people that we are mutual friends with, but his step mom hadn’t told him about calling the bar.
JH: See, that is so AWESOME, I hate making this part about me, but, a Mormon Bishop who has a gay son is South Carolina saw my story in a magazine, and he sent the link to my mom. She opened up the link, saw the picture, and said “THAT’S MY SON!!!!” That was how she found out about me doing that. So, it is really cool when it comes full circle and ends up being in your backyard like that.
KC: I think I saw that story, down here actually.
JH: But when you can touch someone at a personal level like that, and to see what it does to you once you see that you have actually reached someone, and connected like that. People need those kinds of moments in life, and to hear of it from others, it changes people. How was the response about it all, I suppose the community has given you a big thumbs up?
KC: Oh yeah, I was in New Orleans just a while ago, and I was in a pride shop, and the guy kept looking at me, and he said, “You’re the girl, the girl with the phone call.” And I said, “Well… yeah, that’s me.”
JH: I know you weren’t setting out to be a celebrity with this, but it did reach people, that’s what’s important. But there you are, the extrovert, and like talking to people. I know you hear sad stories all day, as a bartender, so, spreading the joy is really wonderful. But, then I think about the mom, now I think she really has a HUGE heart because she is a foster mom, and she took this kid in, and she is trying to come to terms with it. I’m sure it wasn’t in anyone’s plan to take on a child, and then add that they are gay into the mix. She was just trying to live up to her own expectations and love the kid she took into her life to love, and that really changed it up for her. What you said was probably the most profound and effective things you ever said to someone.
KC: I always try to be honest, and real, not rude, but I try to get the positive outcome in every situation. But you have to be that way, love the kid one day, love them the next day. I am the president of a group on the coast called the “Gulf Coast Equality Council.” It’s a nonprofit, and we are building an LGBTQ+ Community center, it’s the first one on the Gulf Coast. So I get a LOT of people asking for advice.
JH: That is so cool!!!! We have something like that in Utah, a group called “Encircle” they raise money to buy and provide a “safe house” for the LGBTQ youth here, giving them resources, just because the culture is against them, especially in Provo, that’s Mormon central, I can only assume the divide is just as big down there in the south.
KC: It is, I honestly don’t know what ours are, because everyone is afraid to come out here.
JH: We didn’t get it on the books for years, they fought it tooth and nail here, if someone died by suicide and a known contributor was “gender issues” they didn’t want it to be taken down and the health department to have that information, because it really lights up the problem we have here. They tried to say it was the altitude that caused the depression for all these teenagers. Did your outreach group get a boost because of this?
KC: We were just kicking off actually, we are just into our third year. I know we got a boost as a lot of people connected with me on Facebook, so I think we got some visibility from it. But I always play that down anyway, ’cause I’m actually very shy.
JH: REALLY? GET OUT…
KC: Oh, well, except for when I’m behind the bar. I think it’s the barrier of the bar between us, it’s the safe space, so we can just talk.
JH: Well, I would think that because it’s a gay bar, you can empathize with the people, you at least have that in common. What is the scale of the bar anyway? It looks kind of nice from the photos I have seen. At least more sophisticated than the dives I would go to hear a punk band play. (See pics of SIPPS at https://www.sippsgulfport.com/gallery)
KC: Yeah, we “APPEAR” to be sophisticated, (laughing) we are very clean anyway, we have every walk of life coming through, every type of music plays on the jukebox, young and old, every race.
JH: Any bar I go to has a floor, a couple of couches and chairs around, and the stage is platform elevated about 12” off the floor, and lots of loud music, your typical punk hole in the wall. How big is the community in Gulfport?
KC: Our community is a decent size, it’s no where near as big as the larger cities, but a lot of the people here don’t come out much. They are couples, and they stay home, as couples you know, but they do come out for big events. Last year was our third equality festival, and we had about 4,000 people.
JH: Wow, that’s a good turn out for a town that size. Is it a patio party, or a parade?
KC: We don’t have a parade, but we work with Harrah’s Casino, they have an area on the beach and they let us have our event there. I think we had a hundred vendors last year. We usually do ours in October, it has to cool down a bit. There is another bar in Biloxi called “Just Us”, they are the oldest gay bar in Mississippi, we support each other, hoping that we can join forces once the community center comes together.
JH: Well, I am on my exodus out of Mormonism, and still pretty “virgin” to the drinking world. And the old saying, “advice is a dangerous thing, both for the giver, and the taker,” but I’m sure that if I come visit your establishment, you could give me some good advice on what to start with.
KC: ABSOLUTELY, that is some sound advice I can give.
JH: So I am the music writer, so I probably should at least ask, who is your favorite musician?
KC: Oh, well, I LOVE Elton John, and I listen to a lot of country.
JH: So, I ask everyone this, what would your message be to the young person who is queer, in the closet, afraid, and even suicidal. We already know what you would say to the parents of those kids, ’cause.. well, you DID say it, but what would you tell that kid? Now is your chance to reach someone else.
KC: That it does get better, and stay true to yourself. Don’t put yourself in a box because you think that is what is expected of you, just stay true to yourself.
JH: Well all of this has been a fantastic conversation Kara, really, I hope that you can survive this pandemic with your employment, and … Please keep touching peoples lives, you are lucky to see how you made a difference in one life, just keep at it.
KC: Thank you.
For Kara’s original Facebook post in its entirety, here it is.