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New Orleans Mardi Gras Krewes  
 
page: 1  2  

At first the krewe's gatherings were held in private homes, but they soon grew to such a size that a bigger space was needed. In 1962, the members of the krewe decided to have the ball in the adjacent parish of Jefferson at the cafeteria of a private school where one of the members taught. It was a loosely organized event, and the guests were encouraged to costume.

As the guests arrived, the neighbors became alarmed and called the sheriff. The ball was well underway when the sheriff's men arrived to raid the gathering. Knowing what awaited them, many men ran for the rear exits or jumped out of windows. The area behind the school was undeveloped, and many sought refuge in the darkened woods. One story has the queen hiding in these bushes as the troopers came through with their flashlights. Sparkling in the high beams of light, his rhinestone tiara gave him away.

Sponsor Message.

News of the raid and the numerous arrests drifted back to the Quarter. Dixie Fasnacht, owner of Dixie's, wasted no time in opening her safe and dispatching an attorney to Jefferson Parish to make bail for as many of the arrested krewe members as possible.

The Krewe of Petronius

In 1961 the Krewe of Petronius legally registered as a Mardi Gras krewe. It received a charter from the state to stage a Mardi Gras ball. The krewe also hired a police detail for protection, thus making it safe from a raid or other harassment. Petronius's first ball was in 1962, the same year as the Yuga raid, and it set the standards for all of the balls that have followed.

The structure that they set up, including the preeminence of the Captain and the presentation of the royalty, especially the Queen and the King, was based on the organization of many mainstream krewes and is still used by most of the clubs. The guests were not permitted to attend in drag. Instead, they were required to be formally attired. Because Petronius had secured a charter, dancing was now allowed after the tableaux.

At this time, only African Americans would rent space to gays, so the early balls were held at black labor union halls.

Other Krewes Proliferate

In the 1960s, gay krewes proliferated. They became less interested in mocking the mainstream krewes and more interested in establishing their own traditions. In short, they were becoming an important part of Mardi Gras celebrations within the gay community and, ultimately, within the city itself.

The Krewe of Amon Ra formed in 1964 and Ganymede in 1966. Armeinius was established soon after. Their first ball was in 1969, the year of Stonewall, and its theme was prophetic, "1969, The Year of the Queen."

Apollo was established in 1970. Its flamboyant captain booked the ballroom of a large French Quarter hotel, thus breaking the barriers that kept most of the gay balls in black labor union halls.

Olympus, founded by a New Yorker, also debuted in 1970. The founder wanted a bigger venue and approached the politicians who ran the neighboring parish of St. Bernard about renting their newly constructed civic auditorium. He assured them that the ball would be of Broadway quality and that they and their wives would be invited to the first ball. Many clubs followed their lead to St. Bernard, and most were still there more than 30 years later.

The clubs flourished in the 1970s. Among the new krewes presenting carnival balls in this decade were the lesbian club Ishtar, the Celestial Knights, David, and Polythemus.

In 1982, the Lords of Leather changed the prevailing concept of a ball by presenting a "beary, leathery" King and a male consort instead of a Queen. Apollo sold franchises of their clubs and soon there were Apollo clones all over the Gulf South.

Decline and Revival

In the 1980s, AIDS spread through the gay krewes, and many members were lost. For a while, the krewes were considered irrelevant in those cruel times. Membership declined, and some clubs disappeared.

In the 1990s, however, there was a new wave of interest as members of lost krewes joined those still intact and younger men sought membership. Some clubs opened their membership to women.

Mwindo formed in 1998 as the first predominantly African-American krewe, although African Americans were already in the other krewes.

As of 2003, the gay krewes are Petronius, Amon Ra, Armeinius, Lords of Leather, Mwindo, POS, and the newest, the Mystic Krewe of Satyricon, founded in 2001.

Gay Mardi Gras Krewes Post-Katrina

On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina ravaged the New Orleans area. When several levees collapsed, what had been a disaster became a catastrophe. Most of the city and its surrounding areas were flooded. Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed and many lives were lost.

Like most residents of the city, members of the gay krewes were forced into exile for weeks. They returned to discover that many of them had incurred great losses. Some of the buildings, or "dens," that housed the krewes were severely damaged. The St. Bernard Parish Civic Auditorium, where many of the gay krewes held their balls, was destroyed.

Fortunately, however, many of the areas most heavily populated by members of the New Orleans glbtq community, including the French Quarter, the Faubourg Marigny, Bywater, and the Garden District, escaped the worst of the flooding that wreaked such havoc on the city. As a consequence, despite the losses incurred by many individual members of the gay Mardi Gras krewes and the damage to the local economy, most of the krewes remain intact.

Celebration of Mardi Gras 2006 was, however, a bitter-sweet affair. Many of the krewes held severely curtailed celebrations, opting to present their royalty at dinners or other functions rather than stage balls. Only the Krewe of Armeinius presented a full-scale bal masqué.

The decision to celebrate Mardi Gras even after the devastation of Katrina bespeaks the importance of Carnival to the city and to its glbtq citizens even--maybe especially--in difficult times.

Albert J. Carey

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social sciences >> Overview:  New Orleans

One of America's most colorful cities, New Orleans boasts a rich tradition for glbtq people and is both a popular travel destination for gay men and lesbians and the home of a diverse glbtq community.

arts >> Dureau, George

New Orleans artist George Dureau is best known for his male figure studies and narrative paintings in oil and charcoal and for his black-and-white photographs, which often feature street youths, dwarfs, and amputees.

arts >> Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras, or Carnival, as it is often called, is a festival known for wild abandon, sexual promiscuity, feasting, drinking, dancing, parading, and elaborate masquerade.


    Bibliography
   

Osborne, Mitchel L. New Orleans: The Passing Parade. New Orleans: Picayune Press, 1980.

www.gaymardigras.com

www.kreweofamonra.org

www.armeinius.com

www.lordsofleather.com

www.mardigrasunmasked.com

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Carey, Albert J.  
    Entry Title: New Orleans Mardi Gras Krewes  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated February 26, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/new_orleans_mgk.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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