Know what’s more interesting than New Orleans history? New Orleans LGBT history. In honor of LGBT History month, we’ve cobbled together five fascinating facts that might just make you the most interesting person you know.
Q: What famous 19th century poet, often called the “father of free verse,” wrote about his romance with a man in New Orleans?
A: For three months around 1848, Walt Whitman believed he had his first relationship with a man during this period. While his New Orleans poem, “Once I Pass’d Through a Populous City,” seems to recount a romance with a woman, the original manuscript proves he had a man on his mind.
Q: Which Saints player was the first professional team-sport athlete to openly come out?
A: Running back David Kopay, who played for the New Orleans Saints in 1971, came out in 197. Three years after retiring, he admitted his homosexuality during an interview with the Washington Star.
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, 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: Before the Orlando mass murders, what was the worst mass killing of LBGT people in America?
A: On June 24,1973, an arson attack killed 32 people in the UpStairs Lounge at 141 Chartres Street. Although no one was ever convicted of the crime, the lone suspect was Rodger Dale Nunez, who had been ejected from the bar earlier in the evening for fighting. After his arrest, he escaped from psychiatric custody and was never picked up again by police, even though later on a friend of Nunez’s told investigators that Nunez confessed to starting the fire on at least four occasions. Nunez took his own life in November 1974.
Q: What New Orleans event was described as “a happening of haberdashery fit for an LSD Alice in Wonderland?”
A: The reporter who wrote that was talking about Southern Decadence, of course. According to “In Exile: The History and Lore Surrounding New Orleans Gay Culture and Its Oldest Gay Bar,” this is how the event got started. In August of 1972, a large group of friends living in a small, $100-a-month cottage in the Treme planted the seeds for Southern Decadence, a festival that would grow to become the fifth-largest tourism event in the city. The house was facetiously named “Belle Reve” after Blanche DuBois’ grand Mississippi plantation in the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire. According to legend, when a friend announced he was moving away, the group decided to throw a going-away costume party. The event was named a “Southern Decadence Party,” 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?
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