New Orleans Southern Decadence
New Orleans is home to many annual celebrations. One of their major festivals includes Southern Decadence, a six-day event that takes place every year in New Orleans, Louisiana. This event is held by the gay and lesbian community during Labor Day Weekend and ends in a parade through the French Quarter of New Orleans on the Sunday before Labor Day.
The Southern Decadence event began in August of 1972. It started as an end of the summer party for a group of friends, both gay and straight. People who attended the party were required to dress up as their favorite Southern decadent. In 1973, the participants met at Johnny Matassa’s Bar in the French Quarter to show off their costumes and walk home to Belle Reve via Esplanade Avenue, leading to the first small walking parade. In 1974, the event expanded when Frederick Douglas Wright was appointed the first Grand Marshall by the members in the original group. Wright has complete control over the parade of characters and costumes as they marched through the French Quarter.
Southern Decadence, or just Decadence as it is commonly referred to by its participants, is full of parades, street and dance parties, and lots of bead tossing. It is in these ways that the event closely resembles New Orleans Mardi Gras. However, Southern Decadence has a more sexual tone and is typically geared toward more upscale and older revelers. Decadence crowds typically match or exceed Mardi Gras ones, and most events take place in or around the French Quarter, centered at the intersection of St. Ann and Bourbon streets.
Crowds can range from 100,000 to 300,000 people from around the world. In 2017, more than 200,000 people were participating in the event, bringing the city in over $250 million. While Southern Decadence primarily caters to gay men, it is still lesbian-friendly and the Dykes on Bikes, a lesbian motorcycle club, participate in the French Quarter’s annual parade.
Themes were on and off until 1988 when the “Plagues, Pests, Parasites” theme became a consistent fixture of the event. Other themes include “Ancient Truths, Lies, and Sacrifice” and “Voodoo That You Do” among others.
In 2005, Southern Decadence was officially canceled due to safety precautions because of Hurricane Katrina. However, there was a small group of locals who remained in the French Quarter and celebrated anyway. A small parade was held in the French Quarter with about 24 participants. Because the city was under mandatory evacuation at the time, a police officer tried to stop the small parade, but one of the participants was able to show a parade permit issued before Katrina showing that this was a scheduled event and they were allowed to continue. This was the first parade in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, the event rebounded with near-normal crowds using the theme “Southern Decadence Rebirth.” In 2008, due to the encroaching Hurricane Gustav, some of the events of Southern Decadence were canceled. The event rebounded again in 2009 with the theme “Hurricane: This Year, They Blow Back.”