In 1978, the Pink Triangle Alliance hosted the first Gay Pride rally ever held in New Orleans.
The Pink Triangle Alliance was the public face/political name of the Louisiana Sissies in Struggle, a group that came out of the Mulberry House Collective in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when Dennis Williams, Dimid Hayer, Stacey Brotherlover, and Aurora relocated to New Orleans. The Sissies had grown out of the back-to-the-land movement advocated by Milo Pyne and served as sort of a forerunner to the Radical Faeries.
The Louisiana Sissies in Struggle was short-lived, but while it lasted, it advocated for queer issues, as well as protested non-gay-specific issues such as racism, police brutality, and socio-economic inequality. The group also helped edit RFD, a quarterly magazine for rural folk which aimed to raise queer consciousness, that had been founded in 1974.
After the Pride rally the Pink Triangle Alliance sponsored in 1978, a small group of people met to discuss a Pride event the following year. The Pink Triangle Alliance members in attendance argued that more was needed than just a parade. Activists Dick O’Connor, Charlene Schneider Mark Gonzalez, and other community leaders agreed, and the group decided on a festival.
Dick O’Connor met with City Councilman Mike Early who enjoyed the support of the gay community and endorsed the idea, going so far as to even help the group secure a prime location for the first GayFest, none other than Jackson Square. When the Roman Catholic
Archdiocese learned of the event, however, Archbishop Philip Hannan went to work behind the scenes with his contacts at City Hall and had the venue nixed.
Years later, in 1986, Archbishop Hannan pressured Councilman Early, a former priest, to withdraw his support for a non-discrimination ordinance that would have protected lesbian and gay employees. Early had sponsored the ordinance two years earlier and his “no” vote in 1986 was viewed by many in the community as a betrayal. The ordinance failed in 1986 but was eventually passed in 1991 over Archbishop Hannan’s strong objections.
The Archdiocese’s opposition to gay visibility in front of its landmark Cathedral was ironic considering that one of its own facilities, a church and building complex that had once been a cloistered convent for nuns on the corner of N. Rampart and Barracks, was being used as a de facto gay community center.
Prior to the founding of the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New Orleans, the St. Louis Community Center in the French Quarter served as a gay friendly meeting place for various LGBT organizations such as PFLAG, a gay Alcoholics Anonymous group, Dignity, Crescent City Coalition, LAGPAC and a few other LGBT groups. This was made possible because of the tolerance of a gay priest on the downlow who ran the facility. Rich Sacher observes, “For a few years, before the Catholic Church in Rome swung to far right conservatism, this location was practically a gay community center. When Pope John Paul II was elected, we were all told to Leave.”
GayFest organizers were not happy at having the venue pulled, but found a suitable, alternate location at Washington Square Park not far away in the Marigny neighborhood. When GayFest was organized, part of the idea was to raise money for a community center, which they did. Subsequently, however, the money raised for the community center mysteriously vanished. A lack of financial resources would plague the community center throughout its history.
Like the community Center, Pride was not without its financial setbacks. By 1994, Pride was on the verge of bankruptcy when Co-Chairs Robert Brunet and Joan Ladnier asked Stewart Butler and his partner Alfred Doolittle for help. Stewart wrote a check without hesitation.
New Orleans Pride would survive and has been reincarnated under various umbrella organizations. The parade has enjoyed phenomenal growth and popularity in the last several years and although it has been canceled this year because of the COVID-19 outbreak, organizers have announced that this years’ Grand Marshals—Halloween New Orleans, the LGBT+ Archives Project of New Orleans, Princess Stephaney, and yours truly—will resume their duties leading the parade next year.
For good or ill, Pride Parades today have strayed pretty far from their roots as angry marches of defiance. The gay liberationists in the early 1970s may not be happy with what their marches have evolved into, but one fact is undeniable—Pride Parades are here to stay, even if they are little more than moveable corporate trade shows. As long as homophobia persists, the need for Pride will continue.