As February comes to an end and New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras, LAFHAC is looking back on the Mardi Gras season of 1992. That year, Dorothy Mae Taylor, the first African American woman elected to the Louisiana State Legislature and New Orleans City Council, spearheaded an anti-discrimination ordinance in New Orleans. This ordinance, known informally as the Mardi Gras ordinance, aimed to promote inclusivity in social organizations, and in New Orleans, this included the Mardi Gras krewes.
Taylor’s initial proposal involved jail time for non-compliant groups who discriminated on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, age, physical condition, or disability. After causing outcry city-wide and courts deeming it unconstitutional, a revised ordinance passed in 1992 requiring krewes to sign affidavits stating they would not discriminate against potential members, in order to receive a city parade permit.
Unwilling to adopt this anti-discrimination ordinance, some of the old-line krewes – Proteus, Comus, and Momus – chose not to ride in the parades that year. Comus never rode again, Proteus rejoined in 2000, and Momus reconvened in later years as the Knights of Chaos, which still rides Uptown.
With these changes, the following decades brought an explosion of new and more diverse krewes joining the old-timers that date back to the 19th century. Today, krewes such as Muses, Krewe du Vieux, Chewbaccus, and Nyx bring new faces and new ideas to the city’s long-running tradition.
The City of New Orleans also continues to work to enforce the anti-discrimination ordinance city-wide. Most recently in November 2019, New Orleans residents voted overwhelmingly to establish the Human Rights Commission under the City’s Charter. The commission is tasked with protecting individuals from unlawful discrimination and differs from the existing Human Relations Commission in that it has the power to field complaints to help enforce anti-discrimination regulations. For more information, please visit http://www.nola.gov/office-of-human-rights-and-equity/human-relations-commission/.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/infrogmation/20374541765