Southern Decadence is a week-long, predominantly gay-male event held in New Orleans, Louisiana and its environs by the gay and lesbian community in early September, climaxing with a parade through the French Quarter on the Sunday before Labor Day.
Most events take place in or around the French Quarter neighborhood of New Orleans, centering especially on the intersection of Bourbon and St. Ann streets.
Crowds range from 100,000 to 300,000 revelers from across the United States. In 2004 there were over 100,000 participants and the positive economic impact on the City of New Orleans was estimated at over $95 million. It is the last national circuit party of the season. Other circuit parties take place in Palm Springs, California, Miami, Florida, and on Fire Island.
Decadence, as it is known by participants, is marked by parades, bead tossing, street parties and dance parties. In these ways it resembles New Orleans Mardi Gras, however unlike Mardi Gras, Southern Decadance is quite adult and sexual in tone, with overt advertising for the liquor that flows freely since all bars can stay open around-the-clock, and usually do to cash in on the huge crowds of tourists and other revelers. It is informally known as "Gay Mardi Gras". Decadence crowds in the Quarter typically match or exceed the gay Mardi Gras crowds, leading some residents of the French Quarter to leave the city over Labor Day weekend, like some do for Mardi Gras itself, although the influx of visitors to the city as a whole is not so great as for New Orleans Mardi Gras.
For 2008, the theme is Decadence Does Disco. The official colors are silver, black and white.
In the past several years religious and conservative groups have rallied against the festival. In 2003 there was a formal petition filed to have the event terminated, with video footage handed over to officials depicting dozens of men engaged in "public sex acts". There were examples of men exposing themself to others for beads, similar to the way women have long exposed their breasts (and more in "girls-gone-wild" style) for the traditional Mardi Gras balcony bead toss. There was an extremely vocal response from business owners and hoteliers in New Orleans in support of the festival, which is the biggest money maker for them after Mardi Gras. As some of them put it: it brings almost all of the money of Mardi Gras with far less destruction and litter; this relative neatness is occasionally attributed to the somewhat older demographic that Southern Decadence attracts, verses the college-age crowds that are typical of Mardi Gras. Ultimately the police made a show of posting notices clarifying public sex, and the public urination of the many drunken revelers is forbidden.
In 2006 Roberts Batson of the Bienville Foundation and others wanted to expand the festivities. They thought to serve up culture, conversation and fundraising for financially-stressed gay organizations, all with heaping side dishes of fun, food and socializing. DecaFest will help apply financial CPR with a fundraising technique designed to benefit the entire gay community. The festival will support gay life in New Orleans more generally as well. The DecaFest website explains that the fesitival is a place “to cherish and strengthen community” and “to give notice the LGBT community is here to stay, is committed to the future, and is determined to be a vital player in the rebuilding of our city.”
Hurricane Katrina Edit
An abbreviated parade took place in the French Quarter with some two dozen participants. Most were French Quarter hold outs; there were also at least a couple of people who had to wade in through flooded streets from other neighborhoods to get there. As the city was officially being evacuated at the time, a police officer at first attempted to stop the small observation of tradition, but one of the participants was able to produce the parade permit issued pre-Katrina showing it was a scheduled legal event, and the small procession was allowed to continue. National media reporters noted the event. It was the first parade in New Orleans after the hurricane, the most recent previous New Orleans parade having been the Krewe of OAK "Midsummer Mardi Gras" parade the night before the city's mandatory evacuation.
With the theme "Southern Decadence Rebirth", the event rebounded in 2006, attracting near-normal crowds.
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