Welcome to Eureka Springs

The gayest small town in America you’ve never heard of.

BY Chadwick Moore

April 24 2014 3:14 PM ET


Eureka doesn’t have a gay bar. When Lee and his partner, Walter, bought Eureka Live two and a half years ago, some newcomers in town hoped that would change.
 
“You wouldn’t be able to support a gay bar in Eureka,” Lee says. He’s a hefty, thoughtful man, and he points a forefinger sporting a massive silver dragon’s-head ring at me. “I think when you call yourself a certain bar — whether it’s gay, straight, topless, whatever — you’re stereotyping yourself and you’re not allowed to see the big picture.”
 
It’s also very un-Eureka to segregate — someone’s going to feel left out. In 2008, when the deeply red, one-horse town of Silverton, Ore., elected the nation’s first openly transgender mayor, one could practically hear Fred Phelps and the ACLU gasping simultaneously in surprise. But that election wouldn’t have shocked anyone in Eureka, where they know how non-partisan and personal small-town politics can be.
 
At Eureka Live, the drag show has drawn a capacity crowd (who knew there were so many variations on the spiked pixie cut?) with a wait 30 people deep outside. I meet a 26-year-old woman with her two lesbian moms, who met each other in the military.
 
“Even though it said, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ we still did it,” one mom says. Together they have two other children and one grandchild. “Our straight son is over there, flirting with the drag queen.”
 
There are some methy-looking youngsters slumped around the pool table, a lot of smokers, some big Southern hair, people in hunting fatigues, and coeds from the nearby University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
 
“I was married 15 years. I have two daughters and a grandbaby. One of my daughters is here tonight,” the drag queen tells the audience. “My wife left me because I’m prettier than her.” This gets a roaring laugh from an obese man in biker garb and a knee slap from his elderly mother.
 
“Maybe people are curious about gays or drags, but they wouldn’t ever go to a gay bar. They can come here and see that no one’s going to grab ’em,” Lee says.
 
This mentality is pervasive and explains a recent controversy in Eureka over some townspeople who started a gay business guild to promote LGBT tourism.
 
Sparky — real name Mark Wetzel — came to town a year ago. Like many who have migrated here in the last decade he’s middle-aged and, after the death of his partner from bone cancer complications, came to Eureka to start anew.

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