The traditions of Gay Mardi Gras came into being in the 1950s. The first Gay Mardi Gras krewe was the Krewe of Yuga or "KY." This krewe was formed to satirize the straight, aristocratic Mardi Gras traditions in 1958. In 1962, the Krewe of Yuga threw its first Ball at a badly chosen sight, a private children's school. No sooner had the tableau begun with queen and maids expectantly waiting the adoration of the spectators when police cars roared up and the ball was raided. Doors were locked and people were unceremoniously hauled to jail.
Taking a deep breath, the Gay community soon reorganized and new Gay Mardi Gras krewes began to flourish. Peaking in the early 1980s, there were dozens of Gay krewes that were the highlight of the Carnival season. Local matrons would beg for tickets from their hairdresser. They were quite the event.
The Gay balls required formal attire and the tableaus were a sight to behold. Many a cocktailed queen was seen to fall over from the weight of a bigger than life costume. It was all wonderful, some of the most cherished Carnival memories.
Why past tense? AIDS took many of the best and most talented people from New Orleans. It would be easy to blame a weak economy and apathy for the decline of the Gay krewes. It's not that. It was AIDS that hurt this fine tradition, redirecting funds from carnival clubs to fight the disease.
However, several krewes did survive across the Gulf South, plus new ones have organized in recent years bringing about the rebirth of Gay Mardi Gras. It's back! It's big! It's FAB!!!
In New Orleans there are eight Gay Carnival organizations - Krewe of Amon Ra, Krewe of Armeinius, Krewe of Mwindo, Krewe of Petronius, Krewe of Queenateenas, Lords of Leather and Mystic Krewe of Satyricon.
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, there are two - Krewe of Apollo Baton Rouge and Krewe of Divas .
In Lafayette, Louisiana, there are two - Krewe of Apollo de Lafayette and Royal Order of Unicorn.
In Birmingham, Alabama, there is one - Krewe of Apollo Birmingham.
In Dallas, Texas, there is one, the Krewe of Apollo-Dallas.
In Houston, Texas, there is one, the Krewe of Olympus.
These Gay balls carry on the lavish traditions for everyone. Attire is formal and the balls are by invitation only. And if you hear of a krewe fundraiser, please support each and every one of them, to help maintain this Gay Mardi Gras tradition preserving Gay life, music and culture.