Letter from the Board: Honoring the New Orleans LGBTQ+ community

In 1994, a Missouri high school teacher named Rodney Wilson advocated for the creation of a month dedicated to teaching and celebrating gay and lesbian history. Nearly 30 years later, LGBT History Month holds space for the history of gay rights movement, related civil rights movements and of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. 

As residents of New Orleans, it is imperative to recognize triumphs of the LGBTQ+ community in the city. New Orleans is home to Café Lafitte in Exile, one of the country’s oldest gay bars, and of the Steamboat Club, one of the country’s oldest gay social organizations. Despite these safe spaces, in 1955, the New Orleans Police Department Superintendent declared homosexuals the “Number 1 vice problem.” 

The New Orleans LGBTQ+ community grew to the dismay of some city residents. Only three years after the NOPD Superintendent’s comment, the gay community established their own Mardi Gras traditions. Krewe of Yuga, the first gay Carnival club formed in 1958, and was followed by the Krewe of Petronius in 1961 and the Krewe of Armeinius in 1968.

By the 1970s, New Orleans witnessed a rapid growth of gay activism. An array of local organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front of New Orleans, a local chapter of the national lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, the Tulane University Gay Students Union helped pave the way for the LGBT New Orlineans. The Gertrude Stein Society, formed in 1975, was instrumental in developing the Louisiana Gay Political Action Caucus, the State Gay Conference, the New Orleans Gay Men’s Chorus, a local chapter of P-FLAG and the NO/AIDS Task Force.

And yet, in 1973, the tragic fire of the Upstairs Lounge in the French Quarter stunted the LGBTQ+ community of the city. It went unnoticed by so many, although the community lost 32 lives in the hate crime. And so, even in a city where great strides of progress had been made in such a vibrant community, there was still work to be done. And despite this, the community continued to grow, live, and fight.

After decades of advocacy, the New Orleans City Council recognized LGBTQ+ rights with the passing of a gay non-discrimination ordinance in 1991. In 1997, Louisiana became the first state in the Deep South to pass an anti-hate crimes law that covered sexual orientation. A year later, in 1998, New Orleans became one of the earliest cities to add gender identity to its list of groups protected from discrimination. 

The Tulane Hullabaloo honors the sacrifices made by LGBTQ+ members of our community. We believe it is imperative to tell the stories of these organizations and individuals that so often go unspoken. Without them, New Orleans and Tulane University would not be what they are today. We commit to continue telling these stories and honoring these voices, whether they are loud and proud, or still in the shadows. The Tulane Hullabaloo will always be a place for your voice to be written and heard.

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