The first official gay Carnival krewe, the Krewe of Yuga, was formed in the late 1950s, Gay Mardi Gras had been going on underground way before then. As a spoof of traditional Mardi Gras krewes, the Yuga ball featured a glittering presentation of royalty, including a Queen, King, Captain, debutantes and maids. Though no longer active, Yuga gave birth to other gay Carnival krewes, including the Krewe of Petronius and the Krewe of Amon-Ra, both of which are still active.
While on the surface Mardi Gras appears to be no more than a party, many say Gay Mardi Gras helped usher in the Gay Rights Movement in the United States. Today it remains an important symbol of pride for the community and its allies.
Mardi Gras balls are an extremely important part of LGBTQ Mardi Gras celebrations. They are typically themed and feature dazzling handmade costumes and presentations of krewe royalty. Here are some of the best-known gay Carnival balls. Check the krewes’ websites for details on how to participate.
Typically held on the Saturday before Mardi Gras Day, Armeinius’s mission is to preserve the customs of gay Carnival and to help educate those who seek to learn more.
One of the oldest gay Carnival krewes in the city, Petronius was founded in 1961 and has served as a jumping-off point for other krewes.
Lords of Leather is the only leather-oriented Carnival krewe in the country, hosting a masked ball each year with medieval traditions.
The Mystic Krewe of Satyricon hosts a bal masque each year toward the beginning of Carnival season.
Named after the Egyptian Sun God, the Krewe of Amon-Ra was formed in 1965. Though the krewe started small, today the celebrations have reached a grand scale.
Organized in 1998, the Krewe of Mwindo is one of the newest and most unique krewes, devoted to promoting Carnival to community members who were excluded from traditional celebrations in the past.
A tradition since 1949, the Fat Monday Luncheon is the oldest organized activity in all of Louisiana LGBTQ history. The luncheon began when Bob Demmons crowned one of his out-oftown Mardi Gras guests Queen of the luncheon during a small gathering at Brennan’s restaurant. After the group grew too large for Brennan’s, the organizers approached Arnaud’s restaurant where they were welcomed with open arms. Each year, two queens are crowned: one from out of town and one from New Orleans. Other participants are singled out for various honors as well.
The Bourbon Street Awards, which takes place in the French Quarter every year on Mardi Gras morning, is Carnival’s ultimate costume contest. Awards are given in a variety of categories, including Best Leather, Best Drag, Best Group and Best Overall Costume. Cash prizes are awarded and the event is hosted by celebrity emcees. For more information about LGBTQ New Orleans, sign up for our e-newsletter on GoNOLA.com.