Shirtless men on a Bourbon Street balcony during Southern Decadence 2010.
|Frequency||Annually, US Labor Day Weekend|
|Most recent||September 2014|
Southern Decadence is an annual six-day event held in New Orleans, Louisiana by the gay and lesbian community during Labor Day Weekend, climaxing with a parade through the French Quarter on the Sunday before Labor Day.
The event traces its beginnings to August 1972, as a party among a group of 40–50 friends. They billed their event as "Southern Decadence Party: Come As Your Favorite Southern Decadent." People who attended were required to dress as their favorite decadent Southerner. The first small "parade" occurred the following year, when the participants first met at a bar in the French Quarter to show off their costumes and then walk back home along Esplanade Avenue. This first group impersonated people and characters ranging from Belle Watling (the prostitute character in Gone With the Wind) and Mary Ann Mobley to Tallulah Bankhead and Helen Keller. The event expanded, with the first Grand Marshal  of the event appointed by members of the original group in 1974.
Decadence, as it is commonly known by participants, is marked by parades, bead tossing, street parties and dance parties. In these ways it resembles New Orleans Mardi Gras, however, Southern Decadence tends to be more sexual in tone and is generally geared towards more upscale and mature revelers. Decadence crowds in the Quarter typically match or exceed Mardi Gras crowds. Most events take place in or around the French Quarter neighborhood, centered at the intersection of Bourbon and St. Ann streets.
Crowds range from 100,000 to 300,000 revelers from across the nation and world. In 2014 there were over 160,000 participants and the positive economic impact on the City of New Orleans was estimated at over $190 million. Decadence caters primarily to gay men, but is still lesbian friendly.
Themes were presented on and off from the beginning, but did not become a consistent fixture of the event until "Circus Came To Town" theme in 1990. They have been featured every year that the Decadence has been held since then. They have ranged from themes as varied as "Voodoo That You Do", "Menage a Trois", "Ancient Truths, Lies, and Sacrifice", and "HURRICANE: This Year, They Blow Back."
In the past several years religious and conservative groups have rallied against the festival. In 2003 there was a formal petition filed to have the event terminated, with video footage handed over to officials depicting dozens of men engaged in "public sex acts". There were examples of men exposing themselves to others for beads, similar to the way women have long exposed their breasts for the traditional Mardi Gras balcony bead toss. The complaints led to a vocal response from business owners and hoteliers in New Orleans, in support of the festival. Ultimately the police posted notices clarifying what constitutes public sex. Ironically, the pastor who spearheaded, videotaped, and filed the petition, Grant Storms was arrested in February 2011 after being caught masturbating in a public park. He was convicted of obscenity on August 22, 2012.
The city later passed an ordinance that effectively banned the dissemination of any social, political, or religious message on Bourbon Street from sunrise to sunset, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. Nine preachers and activists were subsequently arrested on September 1, 2012, after they allegedly yelled slurs at people attending Southern Decadence on Bourbon Street. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union during the first round of their case, those arrested saw the law temporarily suspended via a restraining order that was granted by a federal judge.
For 2005 Southern Decadence was officially canceled as a result of Hurricane Katrina. However, a very small group of residents who still remained in the French Quarter celebrated the event anyway. An abbreviated parade took place in the French Quarter with some two dozen participants. Most were French Quarter hold-outs; there were also at least a couple of people who had to wade in through flooded streets from other neighborhoods to get there. As the city was officially being evacuated at the time, a police officer at first attempted to stop the small observation of tradition, but one of the participants was able to produce the parade permit issued pre-Katrina showing it was a scheduled legal event, and the small procession was allowed to continue. National media reporters noted the event. It was the first parade in New Orleans after the hurricane, the most recent previous New Orleans parade having been the Krewe of OAK "Midsummer Mardi Gras" parade the night before the city's mandatory evacuation.
With the theme "Southern Decadence Rebirth", the event rebounded in 2006, attracting near-normal crowds.
Due to the approach of Hurricane Gustav and a mandatory evacuation notice, some events on Saturday and all official Southern Decadence events after Sunday, August 31 midday were canceled for 2008. As a result of Sunday's parade being canceled, the 2008 Southern Decadence Grand Marshals, Paloma and Tittie Toulouse, returned for 2009.
- Cook, Samantha (2010). The Rough Guide to New Orleans. London: Rough Guides. p. 180. ISBN 9781405385558.
- Karlin, Adam; Dunford, Lisa (2009). New Orleans City Guide. London: Lonely Planet. pp. 15, 240. ISBN 9781741048339.
- "Southern Decadence Grand Marshals". Southern Decadence. Retrieved June 21, 2015.
- "The History of Southern Decadence: New Orleans' Largest Gay Event". Southern Decadence. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
- "Southern Decadence Official Website". Southern Decadence. Retrieved September 26, 2014.
- "Official Southern Decadence Theme, Colors and Song". Southern Decadence. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
- "Official Southern Decadence Website". Southern Decadence. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
- Michelle Hunter (March 1, 2011). "Southern Decadence protest leader booked with masturbating at Metairie park". The Times-Picayune. New Orleans Net LLC. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
- Paul Purpura (August 22, 2012). "Rev. Grant Storms, critic of Southern Decadence, convicted of obscenity for public masturbation". The Times-Picayune. New Orleans Net LLC. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
- Bruce Nolan (September 21, 2012). "ACLU wins round in fight for French Quarter preachers". The Times-Picayune. New Orleans Net LLC. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
- "Hurricane Ends Plans for Southern Decadence". Chicago Pride. August 30, 2005. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
Media related to Southern Decadence at Wikimedia Commons