Annual pride celebration enriches community

Parker Greenwood, Contributing Reporter

180,000 people, $215 million in tourist revenue and 45 years of celebration equals one seriously decadent festival. Southern Decadence, which began in 1972 as a costume party comprised of a small group of friends held on the Sunday before Labor Day, has since developed into an internationally recognized pride festival. 

The first major kickoff events are the Welcome Party and outrageous contests that occur at midnight on September 1 at the Bourbon Pub and Parade. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, there will be a free concert at the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann streets featuring artists such as Well Strung, Zoë Badwi, Jeanie Tracey and Rowetta.

There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in order for Southern Decadence to operate smoothly. Organizers work extensively for a successful final product that they can celebrate with the thousands of partygoers in attendance.

Darren Mills, a coordinator for the Bourbon Pub and Parade, helps arrange events in a central location for Southern Decadence. Despite the many responsibilities the position entails, Mills makes a point of finding the time to take part in the festivities.

“I always manage to make it outside so I can see as the parade passes by,” Mills said. “It’s just such a showing of unity and community and I always look forward to that.”

While there are varying impressions of what the event means to the community, all are welcome. It’s common for some to view the celebration as simply being a good time and nothing too serious.

“I don’t see it as anything more than a party,” David Hall, New Orleans resident and member of the LGBTQQIA* community said.

People come from all over the country to attend the event. To some, the event can be shocking, but most enjoy the safety that comes from a level of openness and acceptance present during the celebration.

 “[The festival] provides a space for people from other areas to come and have a good time,” Hall said. “At Southern Decadence they don’t have to worry about getting beat up.”

Every year there is at least one Grand Marshal who acts as a master of ceremonies for Decadence, a tradition established in 1974. This year’s Grand Marshals are Tony Leggio, Felicia Phillips, Derek Penton-Robicheaux and Jeffrey Palmquist. These figures lead the Southern Decadence Walking Parade on Sunday and also work to set up events leading up to the week of the official celebration.

A more recent addition to the tradition surrounding Southern Decadence emphasizes philanthropic efforts. Over the past few years, this pride celebration has incorporated official charities that receive significant donations as a result of the fundraising from Decadence.

“…there’s a lot of debauchery in the streets, but there’s a lot of good things that come from [Southern Decadence] too,” local drag queen Aubrey Synclaire said. “A lot of people actually like to use it as a vehicle to give back to the community.”

Synclaire was a Grand Marshal of Southern Decadence in 2014.

The theme this year is “Decadence Takes the World” and will be matched with ruby red, pearl white, blue sapphire and amethyst purple as the colors for the year. Revelers may hear Ariana Grande’s “Break Free,” as it is the song chosen to represent this years festivities.

Festivities go from August 31 through September 5. Celebrations reach their peak on September 4 during the parade from the Golden Lantern, a traditionally gay bar, to the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann streets.

Sam Ergina contributed to the reporting of this article.