Every year, tourists swarming the Crescent City for Mardi Gras know to expect a raucous party, over-the-top costumes, and a whooole bunch of beads. What they may not know, is how Mardi Gras historically served as a critical outlet for self-expression -- and political resistance -- for the city’s LGBTQ community.
Mardi Gras was the one day out of the year when cross-dressing in public was tolerated by police. During Carnival season, lavish parades and balls thrown by social organizations known as “krewes” provided the perfect excuse for the queer community to get together and dance, at a time when doing so was still very much illegal. Still, tensions with law officials ran high. The first gay krewe, Yuga, was formed in 1958; four years later, police raided the Yuga ball, arresting 96 krewe members for lewd conduct and disturbing the peace.
But that didn’t stop the party. New gay krewes (Petronius, Amon-Ra, Armeinius) formed in Yuga’s wake, creating glittering spectacles and secret societies that defied harsh anti-gay laws. These Carnival krewes undoubtedly sowed seeds for the LGBTQ rights movement years before Stonewall; above all, they helped establish this town’s enduring reputation as a haven for creative expression and open-mindedness.
Every year on Labor Day weekend, New Orleans celebrates all things gay with Southern Decadence, a six-day, rainbow-drenched festival in the French Quarter. But even between festival season, there’s no shortage of spots to celebrate the queer culture that makes New Orleans the anything-goes city it is today. While every bar in New Orleans is a welcoming one, a handful of beloved dives and dance clubs specifically cater to LGBTQ patrons of all stripes.