Queens of Gay Mardi Gras

Last week, photographer Zak Krevitt covered the gay side of Mardi Gras for VICE.

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Mar 15 2014, 10:05pm

Last week, I covered the gay side of Mardi Gras for VICE. I landed in New Orleans, and after a quick change into a tuxedo, I made my way to a place called the Sigur Center to attend the Armeinius Ball. Armeinius is a “Krewe.” These organizations are sort of like frats: You’re voted in, there's lots of drama, and you watch each others’ asses.

At the ball, I was taken to a backstage area which was populated by old men sticking feathers and lights onto extravagant six-foot-tall costumes. The room smelled like fried chicken and hot glue. Finished costumes lined the hallways, floating on wooden pedestals like the shed exoskeletons of some fabulous species. A large population of the Krewe has been performing for over 65 years, and the oldest queen in the room was in her 80s. The tradition began back in the day, when it was a crime to be gay except on Mardi Gras. Seeing 74-year-old Albert Carey done up like a punk princess in a black corset and fishnets was a sight to behold. I spoke to Albert about the history of the Ball and why it was held here in Chalmet, a community far outside of the city center. 

“I joined the second year of the club. In the beginning we were very small, no one had any money, and the gays were not out. I joined in 1970. Back then no one would rent to us; only African-American labor halls would rent to gay men. None of the hotels and none of the vendors would rent to us, but eventually we came here to The Sigur Center. The first ball in this building was in 1971, and everyone wondered how people in the area would react. Turns out they loved it. They saw that we weren’t going to present a sex show. (That was the fear of course.) We’ve been here ever since.”

I spoke to the King of the Ball, Joel Haas, too. He told me that being king for the season entailed attending the other balls, being a representative of your Krewe, and doing good deeds in the community. He would later well up in tears during his crowning, goblet raised to the audience, six-foot-tall reflective sunbeams protruding from his Spartan-like gold and silver armor. My heart melted a little until the guy next to me leaned over and said, “That’s just from all the drugs. Don’t fall for it, honey.”

Next up was the Fat Monday Luncheon. According to its organizer, Charles Turbevill, it is the longest running “gay event” in the country. The luncheon was populated by jolly older gay gentlemen in playful tuxedos. Their ages ranged from about 40 to 90 years old. One such older gentleman, closer to 90 than 40, told me, “Hey, you've got a pretty mouth!” After a few drinks, the crowd shuffled into the dining hall and began decorating the chandeliers with beads and boas, as is tradition. I was sat between Tony Leggio, event planner to the stars, and Fred Powell, a gay minister at the First Presbyterian Church.

That evening I attended the Orpheuscapade, a huge event headlined by Quentin Tarantino, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and Cheap Trick. I spotted some catwalks overhead and decided I would try to get a better angle of the event. I strolled casually past layers of security, pulled on enough doorknobs, and eventually found my way up. I was wearing a tux and a red feather face mask, hiding in the rafters and training my sites on members of a crowd. I felt like a sniper out of a Tom Clancy novel.

From there I went to the “fruit loop,” as the block of gay bars is officially known, and the night took a turn for the drunker. My memory gets very hazy after the point when I was handed what's known as a Hurricane, a drink which contains six different grain alcohols and some sugary syrup. Even so, something happened in the bathroom of a bar called Lafitte's that is permanently burned into my memory. As I peed into a communal trough, I noticed a bit of movement below me. I switched on my phone for light and saw a man snuggled up underneath the trough, grinning as he awaited his golden ticket to bliss. I figured I might as well give the man what he wanted. Having already urinated on a stranger, I figured it was time to call it a night.

Zak Krevitt is currently a senior at School of Visual Arts in New York. He photographs boys, girls and plants.

Matthew Leifheit is photo editor of VICE. He is also editor-in-chief of MATTE magazine.

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