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LGBT

A Little New Orleans LGBTQ&A

From bars to literature to professional athletes, here is a little gay history lesson.

Two Couples LGBTQ&A
Two couples enjoying a toast in Sylvain's courtyard. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

According to NerdWallet, Inc., 5.1% of Metro New Orleans identifies as LGBT. Only San Francisco, Portland, and Austin have more gay locals. For LGBT travelers, that means you’ll find more authentic experiences here than you will in most cities. What’s more, you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

To whet your appetite, we’ve cobbled together five fascinating facts from New Orleans LGBT past. And this is just the beginning. Come back in the weeks to come for more tales from the city’s rainbow-colored past.

LGBTQ&A

Cafe Lafitte in Exile. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Q: What is the oldest continuously operated gay bar in the U.S.?

A: That honor belongs to Café Lafitte in Exile, opened in 1933 down the street in what is now Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. The fact that it existed peacefully just blocks from the first Roman Catholic convent in the U.S. wasn’t lost on the writer of “In Exile: The History and Lore Surrounding New Orleans Gay Culture and Its Oldest Gay Bar.” Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote are just a few of the famous people who have bellied up to the bar here. Don’t leave without stopping at 901 Bourbon Street for a drink and a little history.

Q: Where did Tennessee Williams write “A Streetcar Named Desire”?

Tennessee Williams. (Photo: Fernando Hernandez/Library of Congress)

A: In a little apartment at 613 St. Peter Street, Tennessee Williams polished “A Streetcar Named Desire,” for which he would win the 1948 Pulitzer Prize. Williams loved the city. He called the French Quarter his “spiritual home.” They say that only four hours after arriving in New Orleans in around 1938, Tennessee Williams wrote in his journal, “Here, surely, is the place I was made for.”

Every spring, the city of New Orleans pays tribute to Williams with its annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. Part of the festival includes auctioning off reservations for his table on the first floor of the famous Galatoire’s restaurant on Bourbon Street. Also, keep up with the Tennessee Williams Theater Company, producing his shows year round.

Q: Which Saints player was the first professional team-sport athlete to come out?

A: New Orleans has always loved its boys in black and gold, but here’s something to think about while attending a Saints game or touring the Mercedes-Benz Superdome: running back David Kopay, who played for the Saints in 1971, came out in 1975, three years after retiring.

Q: What was the Gay Liberation Front?

A: According to Blake Pontchartrain, after the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village, the New Orleans chapter of the Gay Liberation Front was formed. While it wasn’t around for long, many believe it was one of the first important civil rights organizations for the LGBT community.

In his book, “Rebels, Rubyfruit and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South,” author James Thomas Sears said that the group, formed in the fall of 1970, raised money by hosting buffet dinners and dances on Sunday night. They also started the first gay publication in Louisiana, a newsletter called Sunflower.

By January 1971, about 75 members of the group marched on City Hall, with signs denouncing “intimidation, brutality, and terror tactics” of local police against members of the gay community. In June of that same year, they commemorated the anniversary of the Stonewall incident with a “gay-in” in New Orleans City Park.

Q: How many people were at the first Southern Decadence?

Southern Decadence at Cafe Lafitte In Exile. (Photo by Paul Broussard.)

A: Southern Decadence is the fifth-largest tourism event in New Orleans. But, according to “In Exile: The History and Lore Surrounding New Orleans Gay Culture and Its Oldest Gay Bar,” only about 50 people attended the first Southern Decadence party. In August of 1972, a group of friends were living in a small, $100-a-month cottage in the Treme facetiously named “Belle Reve” after Blanche DuBois’ grand Mississippi plantation in the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” According to legend, the group decided to throw a going-away costume party for a friend, and around 50 people were invited to come as their favorite “Southern Decadent.” The party was so much fun they decided to make it an annual event.

Want to discover more New Orleans gay history? You’ve come to the right place. Watch for our upcoming series on LGBT History GoNOLA.

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