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Events

GoNOLA Guide to Gay Mardi Gras

Carnival season is upon us in New Orleans, and no one celebrates the season with more pageantry, glamour and laughter than the city’s LGBT community. With decades of history and tradition behind some of the major krewes and balls, which often satirize New Orleans’ old-line Carnival organizations, the joyful music and elaborate costumes of New Orleans’ Gay Mardi Gras are sure to be spellbinding.

Armeinius Ball 2014
Armeinius Ball 2014. Gay Carnival krewes are known for elaborate costumes that resemble wearable floats. (Photo: Barrett DeLong)

Barrett DeLong, public relations officer for the Krewe of Armeinius, says the gay krewes’ traditions stem from a time when New Orleans’ LGBT people weren’t allowed to convene, much less parade during Mardi Gras. “The gay men got the most ingenious and creative in defying that, and they basically wear the floats on their backs,” he says, a tradition which continues to this day. “Instead of seeing a float that rolls by and throws beads off it, men wear the ginormous, beautiful floats on their bodies and parade around the room. And no one wears the same costume twice.”

DeLong says that each of the six active gay krewes in New Orleans functions with the same camaraderie, hierarchy and drama as one would expect from a fraternity. “Each krewe has a definite formula with how their ball feels and looks, so it’s always worth it to see a few,” he says.

Satyricon Ball 2013
Satyricon Ball 2013 (Photo: Barrett DeLong)

The krewes are multigenerational, as well, with members ranging from their 20s to their 80s. “One of [Armenius’] founding members is still alive, and he’s very nostalgic of the krewes,” DeLong says. “Pre-Stonewall, they created these convenes of gay people to have these balls that were so popular, so massively incredible.”

The krewes hit their peaks in the late 1970s, when members of the straight world would attend, including mayors of the towns surrounding New Orleans and Harry Connick Sr. However, the AIDS crisis decimated these balls and the attendance thereof. “AIDS took 15 gay krewes that were at maximum membership, and knocked it down to four,” DeLong says.

However, in the last 20 years, new krewes have popped up, and some gay Mardi Gras traditions have continued from the beginning. “This year definitely won’t be a let down,” DeLong says. “It will definitely be a sight to see.”

Things to Consider

What to Wear

“Don’t pack anything lighter than a suit when it comes to attending a ball,” DeLong says. “A lot of these gay events, you wear a suit or a tux. On the floor, mandatory formal tux or formal drag. In the balcony, it’s cocktail attire or a costume.”

Getting There

While most of the formal balls are held in Chalmette or on the West Bank and require someone to stay sober to drive, a few of the krewes are offering a shuttle service this year from the French Quarter to the ball and back again. “That way you can go to the ball, have a few drinks, and then party at Oz in your tux,” DeLong says.

Tickets

While the Mardi Gras day events are public, the balls leading up to it are wildly popular and sell out quickly — so get your tickets early. “The Fat Tuesday luncheon alone has, I think, only 15 tickets left,” DeLong says. Information on ticketing, dress codes, and availability of shuttle service is available at each krewe’s website.

Schedule of Events for Gay Mardi Gras

Krewe of Amon-Ra Mardi Gras Ball

Saturday, Jan. 24, 7 p.m. (doors open), 8 p.m. (tableau begins)
Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center
This Egyptian-themed krewe has poked fun at the pomp and circumstance of old-guard Carnival for 50 years now.

Amon-Ra
The queen of Amon-Ra at a previous ball. Gay krewes often satirize the pomp and circumstance of old-line New Orleans Carnival.

Mystic Krewe of Satyricon’s 13th Annual Bal Masque

Friday, Jan. 30, 7 p.m. (doors open), 8 p.m. (tableau begins)
Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center
The theme of this year’s ball is “Satyricon Makes Scents: Bal des Parfums.”

Friday Night Before Mardi Gras Extravaganza XVI

Friday, Feb. 13, 9 P.M.
The Cannery
This ball, benefitting local organizations supporting people with HIV/AIDS, has the theme of “Puttin’ On the Glitz” this year. It includes an auction of fine art and other items.

Krewe of Armeinius Bal Masque XLVII

Saturday, Feb. 14, 7 p.m. (doors open), 8 p.m. (tableau begins)
Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center
This krewe, which strives to preserve the traditions of gay Mardi Gras and educate future generations on its history, has chosen “If You Build It They Will Cone (The Architecture Ball)” as its 2015 theme.

Lords of Leather Bal Masque XXXII

Sunday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m. (doors open), 8 p.m. (tableau begins)
John A. Alario, Sr. Event Center
The world’s only leather-oriented Mardi Gras krewe will be celebrating the season with the theme of “That’s Entertainment.” Hosting the ball are Darwin Singleton and hometown heroine Bianca Del Rio, the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 6.

The Fat Monday Luncheon

Monday, Feb. 16, 11 a.m.
Arnaud’s
The longest running gay event in Louisiana and one of the longest in the country, The Fat Monday Luncheon, a formal, non-drag event, has been a tradition in the New Orleans gay community since 1949. This multigenerational luncheon allows out-of-towners and people entering into the community to socialize more with longstanding members. “You always pick up a few stories that are absolutely incredible, and you just want to get in a time machine and see these parts of New Orleans you’d never get to see,” DeLong says. The luncheon is followed by a second line to Good Friends Bar for the Queen’s reception.

51st Bourbon Street Awards

Tuesday, February 17, 12 p.m.
800 block of Bourbon St.
A public event, Bianca Del Rio and Blanche DeBris co-host this New Orleans tradition, sponsored by Oz New Orleans and Ambush Magazine. With categories including Best Drag, Best Leather, Best Group, and Best of Show, this ultimate costume contest includes a $500 prize for the winner of each category and a $1000 prize for the best overall costume. “The total package of gay Mardi Gras is going to these balls, going to the Fat Monday luncheon, and then going to the Bourbon Street Awards, which are very, very contentious to the krewes. It’s our bragging rights,” DeLong says.

28th Gay Mardi Gras Bead Toss

Tuesday, February 17, 2 p.m.
From the balcony of 828 Bourbon St.
Aubrey Synclaire, King Cake Queen XXII of Gay Mardi Gras, will lead this bead toss from the balcony of Ambush Magazine headquarters, located on the same block as the Bourbon Street Awards.

For more information and news on the city’s LGBT community, sign up for New Orleans’ LGBT e-newsletter here

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