For many, Labor Day is the signal summer has come to an end. Children are back in school and the temperatures will soon start to cool. In New Orleans, Labor Day is the start of fall tourist season as well as the Saints season. The city celebrates Labor Day weekend with a huge gay festival in the French Quarter: Southern Decadence.
Now in its 47th year, Southern Decadence is the premier gay festival in New Orleans. The beginning of Southern Decadence is a common, humble theme among many New Orleans traditions: A group of people throw a super awesome creative party. The party is so amazing it returns the next year bigger and better and keeps going. In the case of Southern Decadence, the year was 1972 and a mixed group of about 40-50 gay and straight men decided to throw a party to celebrate a friend moving. A lot of the men lived or had lived at 2110 Barracks st. and the residence was known as “Belle Reve,” as an homage to Blanche Dubois’ Plantation in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Continuing to honor the “Belle Reve” house, the party was named Southern Decadence. “Come dressed as your favorite Southern Decadent”, requiring guests to come dressed as their favorite southern decadent. The party was a smash and next year a parade was added. 1974 saw the addition of a grand marshal, establishing some order as the annual party was becoming a big thing. Southern Decadence continued on until 1981, when a reorganization happened. All of the original members had moved on, the only one still involved was the Grand Marshall. A meeting was held at the Golden Lantern and Southern Decadence went through a metamorphosis, becoming a primarily gay event, the parade starting point moved to the Golden Lantern and the Grand Marshall started deciding the theme and colors of SD.
Fast forward to 2019 and Southern Decadence is a giant official four day event over Labor Day weekend ( but you can stretch it to six days if you show up early or stay later,) and attracts over 200,000 predominantly gay and lesbian folks and was described by a reporter as “ A happening of haberdashery fit for an LSD Alice in Wonderland.” Most of the festivities take place on Bourbon Street. There are several gay bars on the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon Street. One of the premier clubs, The Bourbon Pub, stays open for 24 hours during SD and people can get a weekend wristband for VIP entrance and other perks. Much of Southern Decadence though happens on the streets and is free. Be prepared though, if you have never been to Southern Decadence because it is an adult themed festival with heavy sexual tones. Most of the men attending are gay and have come from all over the world to celebrate their gay pride and let their freak flag fly. SD is for the entire gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered community, but the straight folks are not excluded. Throughout the weekend guests DJ’s keep the music going 24/7 and there are fashion shows, dancing,a lot hanging out in the street, ultimately leading up to the parade through the French Quarter. This year’s theme is “COME TOSS A GOOD TIME,” and the colors are polka dots and pinstripes.
The Southern Decadence website has a full list of events and DJ’s as well as a map of the parade route. So if you wanna get into it or just come and observe some folks celebrating their awesomeness, come check out Southern Decadence and let your freak flag fly!!!