In New Orleans, queer and trans communities have many unique histories. One example is the history of Storyville, New Orleans’ legal red-light district which was operational from 1897 to 1917. Established by municipal ordinance under the New Orleans City Council to regulate prostitution and drugs, Storyville became home to a portion of New Orleans’ queer, trans, and black populations, who were pushed to the margins of society.
Restaurants, saloons and brothels lined the streets of the district, enticing travelers from the nearby train station. Given that options for work and housing were limited for queer and trans people during this time, many opted to earn a living via sex work and moved into Storyville to support themselves. There, they could live freely amongst members of their communities.
Storyville was renowned for its vibrant atmosphere and equally unique “cast of characters.” Fanny Sweet, an infamous Storyville resident, was openly gay and the owner of a well-known brothel in the district. She was described as a “thief, lesbian, Confederate spy, poisoner and procurer.” Another colorful persona, Miss Big Nelly, was a prominent member of the LGBTQIA+ community in Storyville, operating a brothel in the district that housed gay men. The saloons in Storyville gave a soundtrack to the activities of the district. Jazz music flourished at these music clubs during the late nineteenth century. An iconic figure at the pianos of Storyville saloons was Tony Jackson. He was an openly gay black musician who played an important role in the birth of Jazz music in New Orleans and both lived and worked in Storyville.
When prostitution became illegal again in 1917, Storyville shut down and most of its buildings were later destroyed, causing the displacement of all those who once called it home. By 1940, the location was being used to build the Iberville Housing Projects, a segregated all-white housing development. Black residents who used to live in Storyville had to move 12 blocks into the Lafitte project. It is important to note that queer and trans people would not be legally protected against housing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in Orleans parish until fairly recently. In 1991, the New Orleans City Council passed the Human Rights Ordinance protecting LGBTQIA+ people against discrimination in housing and employment in Orleans Parish.
Currently, the federal Fair Housing Act does not explicitly include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, sex discrimination frequently applies to discrimination against members of the LGBTQIA+ community. There are also some newer rules on the books that extend protections to queer and transgender individuals under the law. For example, in federally funded housing, HUD’s LGBT rule protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This includes public housing, housing rented with a Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher, FHA mortgages, and lots of other programs. For more information on legal protections against housing discrimination based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation please refer to our previous blog post.
If you think you have experienced housing discrimination because of your sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at (504) 596-2100. Help is free and confidential.