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social sciences

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Holidays and Observances  
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Wilson proposed October as GLB (now GLBT) History Month because it was during the school year and included National Coming Out Day. National organizations such as Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the HRC, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the National Education Association were quick to lend support, but the Christian Action Network condemned the work as a move by "militant homosexuals [who] are making tremendous gains in our public schools--teaching even small children how to become homosexuals."

Despite such opposition, GLBT History Month has become well established. In 2006 the Equality Forum took over the task of coordinating the project and launched a GLBT History Month web site. Each year the site features 31 "icons"--glbtq people who have made significant social, political, or artistic contributions, one person for each day of the month--with a short video, biography, and bibliography about each. Other videos about GLBT History Month have also been produced and are offered without charge to educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and broadcast outlets.

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Southern Decadence

A celebration of glbtq culture in New Orleans, Southern Decadence began on Labor Day weekend 1972 as a going-away party for one of a group of friends living in a rather decrepit cottage in the Faubourg Treme section of the city. Inspired by Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, the housemates had fondly, if ironically, named their home Belle Reve after the plantation of the character Blanche Dubois. Those invited to the party were told to costume as "decadent Southern" characters.

The party was such a success that the friends--many but not all of whom were gay--threw another one the next year. In New Orleans, if you do something twice, it's a tradition. Southern Decadence was off and running.

Approximately fifteen participants--dressed as such characters as Tallulah Bankhead, Belle Watling, Miss America of 1959 Mary Ann Mobley, Helen Keller (not a conspicuously decadent person), and French Quarter eccentric Ruthie the Duck Lady--first gathered at Matassa's Bar in the Quarter and then paraded back to Belle Reve.

The following year, the organizers began choosing Grand Marshals for Southern Decadence. The nature of the celebration remained essentially the same as before, but the number of participants continually grew.

In 1981, by which time most of the original participants were no longer on the scene, Southern Decadence underwent an important transformation from a party for friends to a celebration of gay culture open to all who wished to take part. At the same time, the starting point of the parade was moved to the Golden Lantern bar. Further changes were introduced in 1987, when Grand Marshals began choosing an official theme, song, and colors for each year's festivities.

Attendance rose considerably after Southern Decadence launched a web site in 1995. The increased visibility turned the event from a local celebration to an attraction for tourists. The then-record attendance of 35,000 in 1996 was immediately eclipsed by a participation of 50,000 the following year and continued to grow until 2004, when over 100,000 people reveled at Southern Decadence.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the city flooded in the last days of August 2005, some conservative Christians, including spokesmen for the groups Repent America and Restore America, claimed that the devastation was divine retribution for the Crescent City's gay culture in general and Southern Decadence in particular. Some more mainstream religious leaders denounced such statements. One gay wag, pointing to the fact that nearly all of the gay bars in the city escaped serious damage while many churches were flooded, asked, "Who does God love?"

As New Orleans recovered, so did Southern Decadence. 2006 saw the addition of a new component, DecaFest, a cultural program organized by local historian and activist Roberts Batson that offers films, concerts by the New Orleans Gay Men's Chorus, comedy shows, panel discussions, and city tours. At 75,000, attendance did not reach pre-Katrina levels but was quite robust under the circumstances.

Attendance in 2007 soared to 135,000. Rip Naquin, a promoter of Southern Decadence, commented, "This year the festival was so big that it poured [beyond the French Quarter] into the Bywater and the Marigny [neighborhoods] where the gay businesses saw the biggest increases, some more than 50 percent of what they previously did." In all, Southern Decadence brought 150 million dollars to New Orleans that year, making it fourth among tourist events (tied with the Essence Music Festival) in generating revenue for the city.

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