Mardi Gras 2015: Mardi Gai

A traipse around the South on the trail of LGBTQrewes

Gay Mardi Gras is a conundrum wrapped in an enigma shrouded in mystery with a side of bafflement sprinkled with bitterness and devil-may-care. It's also a little elusive.

Krewe of Illusions King XVIII Cornell Thomas: El Sol, the Sun, Lake Charles, 2008 (photo by KXM)

The secret society nature of Mardi Gras is a cozy security blanket for many an outcast. In most Mardi Gras cities, gay Mardi Gras still operates as a kind of subculture. On one hand, this comes as no surprise: Most Mardi Gras cities are nestled in the bosom of the American South. On the other hand, the South is exactly where a culture of shrouds and masks and biting bless-her-heart political satire can flourish – a fertile estuary for some stealthy visibility and acceptance. A perfect little example illustrating how far we've come and how far we've yet to go.

For locked deep within the codified beads, beer, and boobs of the most mainstream Mardi Gras, there are a lot of men in tights … and just who do you think designed all those generations of headdresses and codpieces?

Mardi Boys, New Orleans, 2011. (photo by KXM)

There was a great doc that played the 2010 Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival called The Sons of Tennessee Williams. My preview blurb of the piece begins:

Did you know about the gay Mardi Gras krewe ball busted up by the cops in New Orleans and that it preceded the infamous Stonewall Riots by a decade? Oppression, police raids, and gay bashings were the mothers of these krewes' invention. The courageous queens of this era laid the foundation on what would become the gay rights makeover … errrr, movement.

photo still from The Sons of Tennessee Williams

The film is a great intro to the subterranean world of the other Mardi Gras and its role in Gay Lib. The main krewe featured in the film is New Orleans' Krewe of Armeinius, still active today.

Armeinius is not the only gay krewe in NOLA: Just ask the Lords of Leather and the Mystic Krewe of Satyricon.

photo courtesy of Lake Charles CVB

Ambush mag's exhaustive (and aptly named) Gay Mardi Gras web portal has been and remains one of the world's finest gay Mardi Gras resources (but sweet baby Jezuss in the morning, somebody get them a web designer, stat!), detailing all sorts of events, like the Friday Night Before Mardi Gras "secret" ball, the annual Bead Toss, and the Bourbon Street Awards. 2015 is Gay Mardi Gras' 66th annual (?!).

LGBT krewes pop up all over other cities that celebrate Mardi Gras: Lafayette's Royal Order of the Unicorn, Houston's Krewe of Olympus, and a trio of krewes dubbed as recently as 2013 by Mobile, Alabama's Lagniappe magazine as "Alternative Lifestyle" (ouch?): The Order of Osiris, the Krewe of Phoenix, and the Order of Pan.

Brother Hank, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, 2011. (photo courtesy of KXM)

One of our favorite gay krewes had its homebase washed away in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, Galveston Texas' hard-to-find Krewe of Banners. UPDATE 1/21: We just got off the phone with Banners krewe honcho and gay Galveston icon, Eldrege Langlinais who confirms that Banners is alive and kicking and hosting its annual ball, Friday, February 6, 7pm on the customary "first weekend" of Mardi Gras! Galveston at the newly christened KRave in downtown G'town. $10 to schmooze with Galveston's gay.

Another small city with a big gay heart, Lake Charles, Louisiana, is proud of her Krewe of Illusions long integrated into mainstream Mardi Gras. We had a blast at their exciting ball in 2008 and covered it here. This year's fandango is set for Saturday, February 14.

Beet. Fountain. Mardi Gras, New Orleans, 2011. (photo courtesy of KXM)

(Interesting side note: One of the most beloved fests, Australia's world-renowned Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras has very little to do with actual Mardi Gras.)

Wanna get in on the fun? Take this list and chart a course. LGBT travel sites are packed with Mardi Gras season destinations for those in search of the elusive gay Mardi Gras. As hard as it can be to find, one thing's for sure: The gays love the gras, and the gras loves us right back.


Stay tuned as our Mardi Gras 2015 series continues! Check out more in the series, and dig through posts from previous years at austinchronicle.com/daily.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Holidays, Mardi Gras, Gay Mardi Gras, Lake Charles, Krewe of Illusions, New Orleans, Sons of Tennessee Williams, Crystal's, Royal Order of the Unicorn, Krewe of Olympus, Krewe of Armenius, Lords of Leather, Mystic Krewe of Satyricon, Mobile, Galveston, Krewe of Banners

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