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Southern Decadence, French Quarter | ©  Infrogmation  of New Orleans/Flickr
Southern Decadence, French Quarter | © Infrogmation of New Orleans/Flickr

A History Of Southern Decadence

Picture of Rebeca Trejo
Updated: 24 August 2016
Thousands will gather at the French Quarter during Labor Day weekend to celebrate the 45th annual Southern Decadence festival, a 6-day fiesta that commemorates New Orleans’ thriving LGBTQ+ community.

The late summer event, considered as one of the biggest gay celebrations in the country, represents an economic boom for the city, drawing in more than 200,000 people from all over the world each year, while featuring block parties, drag shows, dance offs, gay walking tours, and of course, NOLA-style parades.

Southern Decadence, French Quarter | © Infrogmation of New Orleans/Flickr

Southern Decadence, French Quarter | © Infrogmation of New Orleans/Flickr

The annual celebration of all things LGBTQ+, which turns 45 this year, began quite inauspiciously in August of 1972, when a band of friends living in a Creole-style cottage house, on the Treme section of New Orleans, decided to throw a going-away party for one in their number.

According to James T. Spears’ book Rebels, Rubyfruit and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South, the original plan consisted in getting together on the Sunday before Labor Day – so they’d have Monday to recuperate – dressed up as everyone’s favorite Southern decadent character, but the event was such a big hit among community-members that, 45 years later, it has become the fifth largest event on the city’s calendar, and one of New Orleans quintessential festival celebrations.

Southern Decadence prides itself on representing the entire LGBTQ+ culture, and has made great strides to provide a safe space where gay, lesbians, trans, bi, non-binary and even straight can join forces to celebrate everyone’s individuality and identity. To honor diversity, this year’s festival theme is ‘Decadence Takes the World.’

While the festivities unofficially begin on Wednesday, August 31, with block parties and various events at bars and clubs, beginning Friday, the LGBTQ+ community will shut down the streets of the French Quarter to vehicular traffic and host the weekend’s first parade, which typically starts at 7:00p.m. from Washington Square Park, at 700 Elysian Fields Ave., to Decatur Street.

Celebrating New Orleans’ unapologetic and extravagant gay culture, the official 45th Southern Decadence walking-parade, also known as the festivals centerpiece attraction, will roll on Sunday, September 4, at 2:00p.m. near the corner of Decatur and Barracks Streets.

For a detailed schedule of events day by day, visit Southern Decadence.