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Inside the Undiscovered Gay Mardi Gras

Krewe d uVieux
Big Freedia at the 2016 Krewe du Vieux parade. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

When most people think of Mardi Gras, they think of Fat Tuesday, partying on Bourbon Street, and beads – lots and lots of beads. While these customs are all part of Mardi Gras, there is a lot more that makes up the bulk of the season, and many of these weekends are mostly undiscovered by travelers. Mardi Gras Day is February 25 this year, but the official season always starts on January 6 – which is when all the fun begins.

King’s Day

Monday, January 6 – Back in 2009, the Joan of Arc parade began as a way to celebrate the start of the season and pay homage to the famous French heroine. Joan of Arc is famous for liberating the city of Orleans in France – the city New Orleans is named after. This French Quarter parade is a smaller walking parade where krewe members like to get playful and honor Medieval tradition by toasting one another, blessing a sword, and taking the first bites of king cake during the event.

Weekends

February 8 – While most of the contemporary Mardi Gras krewes celebrate tradition and long-established themes, Krewe du Vieux is quite different. Instead, this Krewe focuses on relevant political and cultural satire. Each year, expect the parade to poke fun at global news, politics, and other miscellaneous events, often with an adult spin. Although the parade can get a bit crude, it boasts some of the best jazz and brass bands Mardi Gras has to offer. Post-parade, explore the beautiful Marigny neighborhood – home to Kajun’s Pub for karaoke and the Allways Lounge.

February 14-16 – The Krewe of Cleopatra and Krewe of Pygmalion are the uptown anchor parades for the Friday and Saturday before Mardi Gras week begins – and they are a must see! Arriving for this weekend of Mardi Gras allows you to have an awesome experience with parades and gay balls, but with smaller crowds. Cleopatra is famed as being the first all-female krewe on the uptown parade route and has made quite the name for itself in recent years. Look out for a Cleopatra cup – the signature throw for the parade. Then on Saturday night, make your way back to the uptown parade route to catch the Greek-inspired Pygmalion parade. There are plenty of other parades to see during this weekend.

The Bourbon Street Awards (Photo courtesy of Roy Guste)

The Bourbon Street Awards

The highlight of LGBT Mardi Gras occurs every year on Fat Tuesday with the Bourbon Street awards. Each year, thousands of spectators dressed in their best get-ups gather on the intersection of St. Ann and Dauphine Streets for an unforgettable costume contest. The categories for the contest include best drag, best group, best leather, and, of course, best overall costume. If you wish to garner one of these prestigious awards yourself, come prepared because each year the costumes get bigger and more fabulous!

The Krewe of Armeinius Ball (Photo courtesy of Barrett Delong-Church)

Gay Mardi Gras Balls

In the late 1950s, the first gay Mardi Gras krewe – the Krewe of Yuga – was formed as a spoof of traditional Mardi Gras krewes. Gay rights have come a long way since then, and the gay Mardi Gras krewes have also evolved with the times. Although they are still rooted in parody, the krewes have focused on ornate costumes and celebrations as a new way to express their pride. Just like many mainstream krewes, membership is often invite-only, but for others, it’s as easy as signing up. Here is a full list of LGBT krewes and the dates of their 2020 balls:

Krewe of Stars: January 18

Krewe of Mwindo: January 25

Krewe of Amon-Ra: February 1

Krewe of Petronius: February 15

Krewe of Armeinius: February 21

Lords of Leather: February 23

Come discover some of the lesser known sides of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and find out why no celebration in the world can truly rival it.

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