Rachel Smallman and Sheila Smallman

Rachel Smallman and Sheila Smallman by Michelle Perez

While on a road trip, Rachel(r) and Sheila Smallman realized an unpleasant truth about gay bars in the southeastern United States. “There is an unspoken rule that gay bars are for men,” Rachel tells GO. “Lesbians can come in, but it’s not our place.” That hypothesis was proven true when the couple was ejected from a gay bar in New Orleans. “That was the day Herz was formed in my heart,” Rachel says. Two years later, Rachel and Sheila opened Herz in Mobile, Alabama, one of the few lesbian bars in the country and one of fewer still in the American South. “I wanted to provide a bar for the lesbian community based on what I seek in any public space,” Rachel says. “I want to be able to have fun and enjoy myself without feeling unsafe or being judged.” Likewise, having experienced her share of not-so-friendly neighborhood bars, Sheila says her mission with Herz is “to make it a safe, warm, and welcoming place. I want people in our community to know that we are there to listen when they need an ear. We are there to celebrate your successes and to encourage you through your disappointments.” In other words, she wanted to make Herz the kind of place where everyone really does know your name. Their experience has been largely positive, although the Smallmans have suffered some setbacks because of the pandemic. They’ve also seen their share of success. They are the recipients of the Human Rights Campaign’s and Showtime’s grant, Queer to Stay, and are currently featured in the short documentary, “The Lesbian Bar Project.” But the most rewarding aspect of the work, Sheila tells GO, “is knowing that [we] accomplished yet another goal, reached a milestone, made a difference in someone else’s life.” —RK

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