“It was a scene like something out of a Fellini movie,” 365gay.com remarked perfectly. Hurricane Katrina was originally expected to delay, if not completely rule out, the annual Southern Decadence gay (meaning homosexual) festival in New Orleans. But the indomitable gay (meaning spritely) spirit of New Orleans refused to desist as about two dozen intrepid souls paraded down Bourbon St. regardless of what death and destruction lay a few feet away.
The San Jose Mercury News caught Matt Menold, 23, wearing a very striking sombrero with a guitar slung over his back: “It’s New Orleans, man. We’re going to celebrate.”
The BBC quoted survivor Philip Holt saying, “The first few days were a natural disaster. The last four days were a man-made disaster.” Menold continued to play Deep Purple’s classic 1973 single, “Smoke on the Water.” And Holt’s words certainly didn’t drag down Joe Malinauskas, a 15-year veteran of the tradition, who was ecstatic that the parade had finally gone back to its non-commercial roots. “Now it’s real again,” said Malinauskas, who wore pink and white Mardi Gras beads around his neck, describing it as having always been “bigger and more wonderfully insane each year since its casual creation in 1972.” This year, he’s right on both counts, with not one but two Southern Decadence parties in the midst of one of the greatest natural disasters ever to befall the U.S.
Menold and company were not alone. Miles away in Texas, the festive mood caught on. Mack Money, a native of New Orleans living in Lafayette, emphasized the necessity of maintaining routine in times of crisis:
“Southern Decadence began 33 years ago in New Orleans as a farewell party to for the late Mike Evers when he moved to Chicago….We couldn’t let it just end with the hurricane. It’s too important to everyone in New Orleans!”
Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard was unavailable for comment.
But it wasn’t all about the levity. A “mix of transplanted gays from New Orleans and locals” wept as the parade paused for a moment’s silence to remember those not so lucky to have escaped the devastating hurricane. The parade continued, and included a few playful punches at FEMA, which, it is widely felt, did not have its priorities straight.
In protest, Repent America director Michael Marcavage declared that “Southern Decadence has a history of filling the French Quarter section with drunken homosexuals engaging in sex acts in the public streets and bars,” which would otherwise be full of drunken heterosexuals engaging in sex acts in the public streets and bars. A press release notes that “a local pastor sent video footage of sex acts being performed in front of police to the mayor, city council, and the media.” City officials responded by welcoming and praising the weeklong celebration as being an “exciting event.”
Such unwelcoming words are mitigated by Sally Huffer’s clarity: “I think people realize that shelters may not be the safest place for LGBT people.”
Miss Huffer is community director of the Montrose Counseling Center, a United Way organization that runs both H.A.T.C.H. (the Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals), and the Houston Gay-Lesbian Switchboard. Emphasizing that the needs of LGBT refugees in particular must not be ignored, her group has helped to create an exclusive database of safe-houses, offering a variety of crucial necessities from smoking or nonsmoking homes, to pet-friendly environments. Also noted is accessibility for people who may not be able to climb stairs.
Back in Houston, some locals have been carrying little rainbow flags or wearing rainbow pins to identify them as gay, while walking around the outside of the Astrodome to help LGBT victims, and are not trying to have a third Southern Decadence festival. Huffer’s group is organizing support groups, including a “local leather club.” She added that “These people are under immense stress… Even living in a shelter can cause stress to a relationship.”
Gays also have to contend with “immense legal problems” as a result of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana’s refusal to recognize same-sex couples, rendering them unqualified for FEMA relief in the form of family benefits to same-sex couples. In a move to appear more sympathetic, the agency is requiring sexual harassment sensitivity courses before deployment in crisis areas.
But in the end, there’s always a silver lining. Tuesday night, organizers said that there will be a full refund on weekend passes for the Bourbon Pub “beginning as soon as citizens are allowed to return to the City and business can return to some semblance of normalcy.”
J. Peter Freire is a Journalism Fellow at The American Spectator under a grant from the Collegiate Network.