[OutVoice] New Orleans, LA: "Revelry Returns to New Orleans"

TheChorusBoy at aol.com TheChorusBoy at aol.com
Mon Aug 28 00:37:45 EDT 2006


NATIONAL NEWS | www.sovo.com

Revelry returns to New Orleans 
‘City of wounded people’ prepares to welcome Southern Decadence

By RYAN LEE 
Aug. 25, 2006

Read it online:
http://www.southernvoice.com/2006/8-25/news/national/orleans.cfm


Marcy Marcell shudders thinking about what might have happened if Hurricane 
Katrina arrived in New Orleans just seven days later.

“If that storm would’ve been one week later, it would’ve been all those 
people from around the world here and it would’ve been three times worse, if you 
can imagine that,” said Marcell, noting the estimated 100,000 people, mostly 
gay men, who flock to New Orleans each Labor Day weekend for Southern Decadence, 
commonly dubbed the gay Mardi Gras.

Katrina blew ashore Aug. 29, 2005. While Southern Decadence was canceled —
 except for about a dozen renegade partiers who marched through the French 
Quarter exactly one week after the storm — and many gay residents were forced to 
flee their homes, New Orleans’ gay neighborhoods miraculously dodged much of the 
devastation.

The catastrophic hurricane bruised homes and businesses located in high-lying 
neighborhoods like the French Quarter, Bywater and Uptown, but those heavily 
gay areas were spared the flooding that transformed most of New Orleans.

“All the touristy things are 100 percent intact, but half the city is still 
desolate,” said Roberts Batson, a longtime gay rights activist and historian in 
New Orleans. “Gay people are really taking the lead in coming back to New 
Orleans.”

Batson grabbed the last seat on one of the last three flights out of the city 
before Katrina hit, then returned three weeks later to find his 1840s home 
outside the French Quarter still standing, the padlock on his door cut off by a 
military crew searching for dead bodies.

“I didn’t lose my house and I was very fortunate in many ways, but it’s 
still very difficult and very sad,” Batson said. “We all cry at the drop of a hat 
— that’s how emotions are, and that’s going to happen for a long time.

Batson reflected on his fear of returning home and finding that his 10 years 
worth of research on New Orleans’s gay history was destroyed by floodwater or 
fire, but paused in the middle of his story to fight back tears.

“I’m sorry — it still happens,” he said. “I was so grateful the house was 
here and the things I value were OK. But it’s not over — we’ll always have 
these emotional scars.”

Gay party returns

Batson and other gay residents are preparing to apply some New Orleans-style 
ointment on those scars, as Southern Decadence returns to town Aug. 30 through 
Sept. 4.

A group of friends who Batson affectionately calls “leftover hippies” 
started the annual event in 1972 by throwing a costume party, and inviting everyone 
to come as their “favorite Southern Decadent.”

To garner more attention for their elaborate outfits, the costumed group 
walked to the French Quarter in 1975, laying the foundation for what would become 
an annual string of parties, booze and, yes, decadence. The loss of Southern 
Decadence last year compounded the difficult circumstances for gay businesses 
damaged during Katrina.

“It became for our bars and many of our gay retail businesses their top draw 
financially for the year, so it’s very important to see it return,” Batson 
said.

The round-the-clock buffet of parties that comprise Southern Decadence will 
be fully stocked this year, with entertainers like Inaya Day, Pepper Mashay and 
native DJ Joe Gauthreaux looking to bring the beat back to New Orleans.

Some gay groups are also looking to add high culture and historical 
perspective to the annual revelry by launching DecaFest, which occurs simultaneously to 
Southern Decadence.

“We’re not in competition with Decadence, we’re not trying to change 
Decadence, we’re just trying to add to it,” said Batson, one of the organizers of 
DecaFest, which features a half-dozen themed historical tours, symposiums and 
the New Orleans gay and lesbian film festival, which was also canceled last 
year.

DecaFest also unveils “Love, Bourbon Street: A Celebration of Gay New Orleans,
” a new anthology from Alyson Books that features gay and lesbian writers 
reflecting on New Orleans, both before and after Hurricane Katrina. One of the 
headline events will be an airing of “ICONS: The Lesbian & Gay History of the 
World, Vol. 1,” with a discussion with the show’s star, Jade Esteban Estrada, 
following the screening.

>From now on, Southern Decadence and the anniversary of Katrina will fall 
within days of each other, and some say it’s emotionally turbulent planning such a 
big party while also marking the storm’s milestone.

“It’s shaping up to be fabulous, but of course it can be very hard sometimes 
too,” said Marcell, who is a manager at the bar Le Roundup, one of the first 
gay businesses to reopen in New Orleans post-Katrina. “We really need it. We 
need it — we need the tourists.”

Katrina is sure to cast a shadow over the Gulf Coast as the media and others 
mark the one-year anniversary of the storm, but Batson promised Southern 
Decadence and DecaFest won’t be bleak affairs.

“It’s not a memorial — it’s not to look back on what has been, but to look 
forward to what can be,” Batson said. “A lot of gay people [from New Orleans] 
who have not returned are coming to Decadence.”

 
Community comes together

The concept for DecaFest sprouted from one of the hidden positives Katrina 
brought to New Orleans: a collaboration among queers known as the Community 
Coalition of Greater New Orleans GLBTQ Organizations & Businesses.

“Since the storm, a group of us have been meeting to say, ‘What can we do to 
build the community back together,’” Batson said. “I am very heartened by 
[the unity among gay businesses and organizations]. We really need to take care 
of each other, because we’re all still suffering this.”

The Community Coalition is also rallying help for organizations like the No 
AIDS Task Force of New Orleans and the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of New 
Orleans, both of which have struggled with the loss of their primary donor and 
fundraising base.

Unprecedented levels of corporate contributions and grants from foundations 
to the No AIDS Task Force “has been the lifeblood that’s keeping the agency 
open over the last couple of months,” said Executive Director Noel Twilbeck.

“At the same time, I know some supporters of the agency who have lost their 
homes and their jobs, and they’re still supporting the agency — it’s so 
admirable,” he said.

The number of clients the No AIDS Task Force serves is down from about 1,200 
before the storm to 700 people, and the agency has experienced about 50 
percent turnover among staff. A small electrical fire also caused the organization 
to abandon its building in June, and it continues to operate out of makeshift 
medical stations and portable offices, Twilbeck said.

Heavily gay areas in New Orleans may be back to a vibrant state, but the 
hearts and minds of gay and lesbian residents continue to be clouded by the 
residual devastation Katrina left behind, said Rev. Dexter Brecht, pastor of the 
Metropolitan Community Church of Greater New Orleans.

“The most challenging thing for me as a pastor has been the emotional trauma 
that’s been caused by the storm,” Brecht said. “It’s been hard for some 
people to cope with the fact that the city — and their lives, their everyday lives 
— is not the same as it was.

“I’ve spent more time dealing with mental health issues since I returned 
after the storm than I ever did in my entire career,” Brecht continued, adding 
that “nearly everyone” he knows has suffered some type of post-traumatic 
stress.

New Orleans is “a city of wounded people,” Batson said.

When Le Roundup opened its doors in late October, Marcell described the city 
as “eerie in a way, but kind of safe in another way — it’s hard to explain.” 
Random fires were continuing to erupt around the mostly still city, but the 
ubiquitous National Guard provided a sense of security amid the chaos, Marcell 
said.

“It was pleasant,” she remembered about the time the first customers 
returned to Le Roundup. “Everybody, of course, was still in shock — trading stories 
about how they survived, where they went, how they evacuated and all of that.”

Unaware of the storm’s eventual course, Brecht evacuated to a small town in 
north Mississippi, where he stayed for five days before feeling a need to get 
as close as he could to his hometown. The sight he witnessed when arriving in 
New Orleans a month after Katrina hit was “awesome.”

“And I don’t mean that in a wonderful way,” Brecht said. “Just the sheer 
reality of how much damage had been done was almost to the point of overwhelming.
”

Brecht’s stunned feelings soon gave way to an optimism that even he found 
surprising.

“I thought, ‘Look at this blank slate we’ve been given,’” said Brecht, 
envisioning a New Orleans free of racism, classism, homophobia, a poor education 
system and crime. “That opportunity still exists, but the door is closing on 
that opportunity and some of those systemic problems are returning.”


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