NEW ORLEANS - Thousands of visitors rolled into New Orleans last month for Southern Decadence: five days of celebration of gay culture in a city now being promoted by tourism officials as a honeymoon site for same-sex newlyweds - despite the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.
"It just shows the dichotomy between what business knows in the state and what our political leaders think," said gay rights activist John Hill. "Obviously, the business community in New Orleans knows that the gay travel market, the honeymoon destination, is a big market."
Southern Decadence, a loosely organized conglomeration of street parties and music and entertainment events catering largely to gay men and centered in the French Quarter, ran through the Labor Day weekend and helped fill hotel rooms - an estimated 37,000 in New Orleans and its suburbs. This year's festival followed the Supreme Court's overturning of key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and coincided with a social-media campaign by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau targeting 13 states where same-sex marriage is legal.
"Gay and lesbian couples want to do what everyone else wants to do, which is listen to great music, go to bars and nightclubs, get some of the best food in the world, and enjoy our culture," bureau spokeswoman Kelly Schulz said.
To let them know they are welcome, the bureau has launched a social-media campaign.
"We are focusing on Facebook now because it is more targeted and cost-effective compared to magazines or TV," Schulz said.
Meanwhile, the separate New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. is making pitches to gay couples as a honeymoon destination during the gay Halloween celebration in October. Jeff Hinson, with the ad agency Dentsu America, estimates the campaign at $200,000.
These promotions by mainstream tourism organizations come even as political, legal, and social challenges for New Orleans' gay community linger.
Gay and straight officers attend gay pride events throughout the year and two LGBT liaisons are among the officers assigned to the events, police said.