Royal Street to host 44th year of Southern Decadence

Lily Milwit, Arcade Layout Editor

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New Orleans is no stranger to celebrations of epic proportion, and Southern Decadence this weekend will follow suit.

Southern Decadence is an annual festival that takes in place in the French Quarter. The celebration, as people around the world know it today, involves masses of people, unusual costumes, music by renowned DJs and plenty of profanity, and has become the largest gay pride event in the city.

While Southern Decadence is a larger-than-life New Orleans tradition, its beginnings are humble.

In 1972, a group of friends living together in Treme decided to throw a going-away party for one of their roommates. Prior to the party, the roommates had named their house “Belle Reve” in honor of Blanche Dubois’ Mississippi plantation in one of their favorite plays, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Based on their house’s name, the roommates called the going-away party, “Southern Decadence Party: Come as your Favorite Southern Decadent” and encouraged their friends to come dressed up as decadent southern icons.

Only about 15 people attended the first party in 1972, dressed as characters including Belle Watling and Tallulah Bankhead. The participants walked through the French Quarter together to show off their costumes and decided to hold the party again the following year.

In its third year, the original group of roommates named a Grand Marshall to provide some order to the growing celebration.

In 1981, the fifth Grand Marshall, Robert King, moved the starting point of the parade to the Golden Lantern Bar on Royal Street. Since the Golden Lantern was primarily known in the French Quarter as a gay bar, the event began to take on its identity as a celebration of gay life and culture.

This year’s Southern Decadence will mark the event’s 44th anniversary. There are expected to be over 160,000 people in attendance, spanning all genders, races and sexualities, who will generate over $190 million in tourist revenue for New Orleans though their participation in the festivities. 

Southern Decadence also raises thousands of dollars for charities including LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, Louisiana Equality Foundation and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays New Orleans Scholarship Fund.

Southern Decadence began its events midnight Thursday with a Welcome Party at the Bourbon Pub and culminates 8 p.m Monday in the same location. The main walking parade, however, will take place Sunday afternoon. To participate, grab your most outlandish outfit, prepare to be both amused and offended, and make your way at 2 p.m Sunday to the Golden Lantern Bar.