Then & Now: How one great American city became the gay capital of the south

One of the best cities in the world is about to turn 300. New Orleans is gearing up for its tricentennial, and the year of celebrations will be epic.

There’s a million reasons everyone loves New Orleans and wants to visit–the food, the music, the people, the character–but one of the best is to take in and enjoy its thriving LGBTQ culture and scene. The city is often referred to as the “Gay Capital of the South,” and has a long history of not just accepting but actually embracing people from all walks of life.

Check out just a few of the ways historic New Orleans liberated queer culture, and how it continues to transform the lives of visitors today…

Mardi Gras

Then: Mardi Gras has been a New Orleans tradition for literally hundreds of years. It started in the 1730s with prominent society figures hosting lavish balls in their homes. By the 1830s, regular people began planning their own parties and small street processions. The first official Mardi Gras parade was held in 1857.

Gay carnival krewes emerged in the 1950s. The very first one was called the Krewe of Yuga, sometimes referred to as “KY” (get it?), and poked fun at all those old, aristocratic Mardi Gras traditions. By the 1960s, there were over a dozen gay krewes and counting. The gay krewes reached their apex in the 1980s. Balls, masques, and other special events were held throughout carnival season and invitations were a hot commodity.

A photo from the Krewe of Armeinius ball

Now: Today, the gay krewes are going strong. In fact, this year, the Krewe of Armeinius will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The theme of this year’s ball is “300 Years of Fabulous,” in reference to the city’s tricentennial. The golden celebration will be held on Saturday, February 10, 2018.

Get your Mardi Gras fix year-round:

  • Mardi Gras Museum upstairs at Arnaud’s: You won’t want to miss this priceless collection of costumes, jewelry and other Mardi Gras memorabilia inside one the French Quarter’s oldest restaurants.
  • House of Dance and Feathers: Located in the historic Lower 9th Ward, this colorful museum celebrates the history of the Mardi Gras Indians, skull and bone gangs and New Orleans’ street culture.
  • Backstreet Cultural Museum: This family-owned museum in Tremé houses costumes, artifacts, and other materials important to New Orleans’ African American culture, including Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, social aid and pleasure clubs.
  • Mardi Gras World: Every day is Mardi Gras at this tourist hot spot that provides visitors with a behind-the-scenes look at how Mardi Gras is brought to life.

Queer artistic heritage:

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