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New Orleans epitomises the Deep South. It has a rich culture captured in its architecture that influenced by its mix of Spanish, French, slave and Creole heritage has created a unique gift to the imagination. I longed to visit New Orleans, inspired as I was by the works of Ann Rice and Tennessee Williams who both captured so evocatively the genteel decadence that is the South and which New Orleans encapsulates. The city did not disappoint. It has a veneer of gentility that cloaks its illicit secrets. Jazz and Voodoo and sex whisper illicitly; from the gaudy bawdiness of Bourbon Street to the gentility of St Charles and its fine colonnaded homes. I was therefore not surprised when on an early visit and in the early hours in a bar that never closed a Southern Baptist born and bred on a night away from his family in sin soaked New Orleans casually inquired “ Y’al do oral”. Little did I know that in a city once famous for possessing the finest whore houses and having the largest red light district in the world that I could have seen my self placed on a sex offenders list if I had been sober enough to have obliged.
It would seem that in a New Orleans famous for its tolerance and sensuality, a New Orleans that was a haven for those who did not fit in a Southern society infamous for its religious tribalism and bigotry and often overt racism, that draconian laws are being used by the police to persecute and marginalise those very citizens who give New Orleans its infamous soul.
The article in the Louisiana weekly exposes the police for using old laws that recall an age of fundamentalist intolerance, old laws that should be confined to the pages of history. These laws are being used to target people and especially sex workers for committing consensual sexual acts that can put them on sex offenders registers normally reserved for rapists and child molesters. For the people spoken about in this article who are often already disadvantaged, the use of such laws seem especially unjust. They are laws that once again expose prejudices evident when after hurricane Katrina’s visit a city of the poor and dispossessed were abandoned to cope in appalling conditions. They are laws that expose a New Orleans where the rich and powerful appear to be using their muscle to enforce an authority out of kilter with a city famous for its laid back tolerance.
To an outsider but never the less lover of the poetry that is New Orleans it would appear that those with money, those with privilege are using laws that smack of bigotry and intolerance to extinguish that famous acceptance of difference that made New Orleans special. As in the aftermath of Katrina it is the others, the outsiders who suffer and in their suffering we can glimpse the pain of a city whose heart has been ripped from it by natural disaster and profiteers and politicians who abandoned the poor to their fate when hurricane Katrina left a city ruined and a people scattered.
What will New Orleans be with out Bourbon Street, its whores, its bejewelled drag queens, its decaying decadence but another frightened American city where the veneer of respectability does not hide a mischievous and rebellious heart but a cowed and frightened soul. Let us all hope that a new Mayor will end this abuse and that the spirit of Mardi Gras, that explosion of the senses is reflected in a return to tolerance, justice, compassion and common sense.