This article was published on September 8th, 2022
2022 saw the 50th year Southern Decadence was celebrated in New Orleans, and it fabulous. Returning for the first time since 2019, people came from all over North America and beyond to celebrate. While attendance was noticeably smaller than pre-pandemic years, due to concerns of COVID-19 and monkeypox, there was still a diverse turnout, from drag queens to twinks, muscle studs to leather daddies, everyone was there to have fun.
The Labor Day weekend Southern Decadence event is one of the largest gatherings of gay men in the world, and it’s been going strong since 1972. The name was inspired by a tea party gathering of queer friends one hot August afternoon, where the dress code was “come as your favorite Southern Decadent.”
Today, it’s a long-weekend tradition that draws over 180,000 gay men and women who descend upon The Crescent City in an annual pilgrimage that has become a rite of passage for the gay community.
For almost 40 years, Southern Decadence has been bringing together an international community of gay men and lesbians to celebrate their sexuality, culture, and heritage by enjoying the traditional foods and music of Cajun Louisiana.
From the delicious Cajun and Creole fare to the jazz music, history and culture on cemetery, plantation, and ghost tours, to coffee and beignets, to shopping for antiques and collectibles in the French Quarter—people came to the festival to do it all.
The gay bars were packed with people having a good time listening to live music, dancing at the pool parties, or getting down and dirty in the clubs.
In New Orleans, you can take your Stoli cocktail or hurricane drink from one bar to another, which meant people were milling about between all the great gay venues and events all weekend long.
It’s a make-it-your-own kind of weekend, with people coming to meet up with friends and make new connections.
Known as the Gay Mardi Gras weekend, the theme for Southern Decadence 2022 was “Jazz. Burlesque. Decadent. New Orleans.” and the official colors of the weekend were gold and red.
The corner of St Anne and Bourbon Streets saw the installation of a gigantic rainbow fleur-de-lis, the symbol of New Orleans. It was a welcomed, first-time edition to the event.
People started to decent on NOLA on Thursday, in preparation for an exciting weekend with friends and to attend the various events and festivities, maximizing the entire long weekend.
On Friday night, the city was hot, hot, hot, and not just the temperatures, but all the fun that was had. The gay end of the French Quarter was packed with people meeting up at the bars, dancing, and enjoying the merriments.
Throughout the weekend there were incredible parties, from burlesque shows and beer-bash events to big-dick competitions and amateur strip nights. The entire weekend was also a great opportunity for people watching and celebrity sightings; people from all walks of life came for the popular gay gathering. Smartphones were constantly at the ready to capture selfies with friends and icons from the gay community.
On Sunday afternoon, despite the rain and cooler weather, the annual Southern Decadence Grand Marshal Parade wound its way through the French Quarter. It’s one of the top highlights of the weekend, as people lined the streets to see the elaborate costumes, bands, entries, and of course to see the Grand Marshals. This year, the Grand Marshals were Danny Girl and Rickki Red.
Following the Grand Marshal Parade, most people made their way to St Anne and Bourbon Street, the heart of the gay district in the French Quarter, to take part in the annual tradition of bead tossing. The balconies were lined with guys dangling beads, shouting “show me your dick”. Those daring and brave enough to expose themselves were rewarded by being showered in beads from the people tossing from above.
Another popular spot late Sunday afternoon and into the evening was The Blacksmith Shop, one of the oldest bars in the United States. It’s a popular spot to go to have the famous Purple Drink.
Even as guys went about their usual debauchery, there was a noticeable crackdown on sexual activities in public spaces and in the bars. It put a slight damper on the festivities; however, people still had a great time. However, there was one noticeable exception on Sunday afternoon as people stepped up to take their turn to get flogged on the new rainbow fleur-de-lis, which turned out to be a crowd-pleasing event!
Monkeypox created a new dynamic for the Southern Decadence festival. With vaccine rollout taking longer than expected in the United States, it did impact attendance. However, the general mood amongst most attendees was that they were vaccinated, while those who were not were conscious about the risk of infection. Local health officials saw it as an opportunity to education revellers about monkeypox and provide pop-up vaccine clinics.
With most gay events, there were a handful of protesters at Southern Decadence. It’s their annual tradition. For 2022, the protesters were further down Bourbon Street, reducing friction and tension with Southern Decadence participants. The small group of protesters, holding large placards, did not disrupt the fun or alter the mood of the event. Police were on standby nearby but did not require intervention.
Start making plans now to attend Southern Decadence 2023. The beauty of Southern Decadence is that you can make it a weekend uniquely your own. The tradition is to come with a group of friends, and the rest is completely up to you. It’s a long weekend event to take at your own pace, your own style, and in your own way. It’s a fabulous way to get to know the Cajun Capital.
Southern Decadence is an amazing and fun event that should be on every gay man’s bucket list to experience at least once in their lifetime. Many have made it their annual tradition, and it just might become yours. It’s highly recommended to stay in the French Quarter, so you can be near all the action, and to book early, because the event draws significant attendance.
New Orleans is all about the party, and Southern Decadence 2022 is no exception. New Orleans welcomes the LGBTQ+ community with open arms! Come celebrate any time of the year with New Orleans. The city has a wonderful collection of gay bars, restaurants, and dance clubs, in addition to Cajun and Creole dining, adventures, and attractions. Start planning your gaycation to New Orleans with the help of Visit New Orleans.