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Places in NOLA To Seek Inspiration on World AIDS Day

Take a moment in your day to visit one of several important LGBT sites throughout the city. From the Bywater to the French Quarter, here are five highlights.

World AIDS Day Monument
Max and Kyle visit the AIDS Monument in Washington Square Park as part of their recent NOLA Scavenger Hunt.

World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 is an opportunity for people in New Orleans and around the world to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It’s also the perfect opportunity to visit LGBT landmarks in New Orleans.

Everywhere you look in NOLA you can see the influence of the LGBTQ community. It’s in our architecture, our literature, our art, and our traditions. Here are just a few of the many landmarks that either pay tribute to those affected by HIV/AIDs, shine the light on the struggle for gay rights, or celebrate talented members of our LGBTQ community.

Five World aids day spots to visit

1. AIDS Memorial

Washington Park, 700 Elysian Fields Ave.

The New Orleans AIDS Memorial in Washington Park was dedicated on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2008 – right before World AIDS Day. The neighborhood surrounding Washington Square was the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in the early days and is a fitting place for this moving memorial. Along with a monument consisting of glass discs depicting the many faces of AIDS in our region, the site is paved with stones engraved with the names of loved ones we have lost as well as those we honor for their efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. A wreath laying ceremony will take place in the park at 3 p.m. on World AIDS Day.

Related: Max and Kyle visit the AIDS monument on their Scavenger Hunt (Episode 3)

The beautiful gardens at Project Lazarus. (Courtesy photo)

2. Project Lazarus

2824 Dauphine Street

Since 1995, people with HIV/AIDS with no place to live have found transitional housing at Project Lazarus. Over the last 20 years, more than 1,200 people have been served by the many programs offered here. At one time, Project Lazarus was a place where people came to die. Today, thanks to education and more effective treatment, it is a place where people with HIV/AIDS come to live. Tours are available by appointment at (504) 949-3609.

3. UpStairs Lounge Fire Site

141 Chartres Street

Until the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub this June, the 1973 arson of the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans was the deadliest day for LGBT people in America. Thirty-two people lost their lives that night in a fire The Times-Picayune compared to “Dante’s Inferno.” Although no one was ever convicted of the crime, Rodger Dale Nunez, who had been thrown out of the bar earlier that night for fighting, confessed to starting the fire on at least four occasions. After his arrest, Nunez escaped from psychiatric custody and was never picked up again by police. Tragically, it just wasn’t a priority at the time. Today, a small plaque in the sidewalk outside pays tribute to those who lost their lives.

Frances Benjamin Johnston self-portrait. (Photo: Library of Congress)

4. Frances Benjamin Johnston House

1132 Bourbon Street

New Orleans has always attracted its fair share of gay writers and artists. Everybody knows that Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote lived and worked here, but have you heard about Frances Benjamin Johnston? One of the first female photographers in America, Johnston lived an openly gay life in a Bourbon Street townhouse from 1940 until her death in 1952 at the age of 88. Among Johnston’s works were portraits of Susan B. Anthony, Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, and Admiral George Dewey. She was the official White House photographer for the Harrison, Cleveland, McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft administrations. Most notably, Johnston photographed lesbian socialite Natalie Barney in her Paris salon. Barney’s life inspired many novels, including The Well of Loneliness, possibly the most famous lesbian novel of the 20th century. Johnston’s most famous work might just be her self-portrait of the liberated “New Woman,” with petticoats showing and beer stein in hand. While there are currently no tours available of the house, you can admire the exterior as you walk down Bourbon Street.

5. Armstrong Park

701 N. Rampart Street

You’re probably wondering what a park dedicated to a jazz legend has to do with LGBTQ history. Plenty, actually. Armstrong Park has been the site of many gay street parades in New Orleans. In 1981, the first parade to be held in the park included a Mr. and Ms. Gay Pride Contest, emceed by none other than Ellen DeGeneres. Ellen, who grew up in the city, got her first break at Clyde’s Comedy Corner in the French Quarter (now Déjà Vu Bar & Grill). The next New Orleans Pride Parade is scheduled for June 10, 2017.

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