WHAT GAY MARDI GRAS IS ABOUT
Mardi Gras has been celebrated in New Orleans (Mississippi River Basin) even before the formal founding of the city. The early French explorers landed at a site near the present city on Mardi Gras Day, 1699 and called the site Point du Mardi Gras..
By the mid nineteenth century there were street parades and balls during the carnival season and one newspaper described the parade as having young men of the finest families dressed as graceful women.
So drag was always a part of this celebration. Early photographs of the 20th century show a variety of men in drag on Mardi Gras day. By law, that was the only time you could legally cross dress without police harassment.. But, you still had to have on one piece of male clothing and you had to be out of drag by sunset or you would be going to jail.
By the late 1950’s, a group of friends decided to have a Mardi Gras party that would be a mock ball. There was a Queen and her court with everyone dressed in tacky drag and it was a great success. They repeated this for the next few years and they called themselves the Krewe of Yuga or KY. By 1960, they decided to take the party to the next level and have it at a public place that could accommodate a bigger crowd. One of the guys worked at a nursery school in Jefferson Parish and got the school cafeteria as a venue.
The guests came in costume and the court became more elaborate but still on the tacky side as the whole event was for fun. Just as the Queen was being presented, all of the lights came on and the place was raided by the sheriff and his deputies. The guests poured out of the place into the open woods behind the school and the Queen was arrested when a deputy shined his flashlight into the trees and the Queen’s rhinestone tiara sparkled back at him. Others ran to neighboring houses and got help with taxis to bring them back to the Quarter. The owner of one of the gay bars, Dixie Fasnacht sent money from her safe to get the guys out of jail.
But the men were determined, and with the help of a lawyer, they were granted a charter by the state of Louisiana to form a Carnival club. That club is the Krewe of Petronius founded in 1961 and still presenting carnival balls. All of the other clubs are descendent from that club.