French Village, Mo., is a unique setting for a gay bar. The hour drive down Interstate 55 from St. Louis is a scenic trek – exiting on Highway Y, one must pass through the pastoral green and farmland along the hill-crowned blacktop to the entrance of Goose Creek Lake to reach their destination.
Norma Jean’s opened its doors on Friday, July 18, 2014. It was a labor of love for Farmington, Mo., native Jamie Gore, who saw the need for an LGBT establishment for Southeastern Show-Me-Staters.
The bar boasts a large, welcoming space, warm tones, 50’s décor and a lot of Marilyn Monroe photos greet patrons.
There’s no attitude at Norma Jean’s – it’s a “family” feel – a brick and mortar community presence in the unlikeliest of places.
Earlier this year, neighbors of Gore had told him about the property, which sits next to quaint gas station and general store frequented by lake goers at the edge of the village of approximately 450 people.
“I had them bring me out here and I looked in the windows and automatically I saw the bar with the glass block and I thought wow, what a wonderful building – that it would make a fantastic gay club,” Gore explained.
To quote Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come” – and that’s Gore’s logic in opening the bar.
He conducted a demographic study and estimated that St. Francois and its surrounding counties have around 140,000 residents. If you go by the five percent rule, that’s approximately 7,000 LGBT people in the area.
“The response of the local gay community has been so supportive,” said Gore. “For so long we have been made to feel that we had nowhere to call home; nowhere to meet the same individuals who are in the same boat that we’re all in.
“It’s like a relief, that something positive is happening in the LGBT community here. It’s been a tremendous outpouring of support,” he said.
Opening night was indeed an event – word travels fast in rural Missouri, after all.
Gore has brought down entertainers from St. Louis the past two weekends, including Akasha Royale, Chastity Valentino, MaKena Knight, Victoria Rose, and Eva Destruction. Other events have included a “play with our balls” pool tournament and “pump it up” night (wear a pair of high heels – and the first drinks on Norma’s).
Article continues below“It’s quite an undertaking and it’ scary – believe me, it’s really scary,” said Gore, of launching the business. “We had a great grand opening, but we had a show. And there were a lot of people who had never experienced a drag show. Those people were screaming… I mean they were having the time of their life.”
“A lot of people go to St. Louis because they don’t feel comfortable coming out of the closet down here,” he continued.
“So if anything, if I can make it easier for them as a person to feel comfortable coming out of the closet and being themselves – and loving oneself is so important – if you can’t be who you are how can you love yourself?”