Gentrifying Gender: Geographies of Sex in the French Quarter, 1950–65

Friday, January 4, 2013: 8:50 AM
Bayside Ballroom A (Sheraton New Orleans)
M. Melinda Chateauvert, University of Maryland at College Park
On 24 February 1959, a special squad of the New Orleans Police Department arrested Mary D'Amico, a barmaid at Cathy’s Bar for “wearing clothes of the opposite sex” in violation of a new city laws enacted to rid the French Quarter of its “notorious ‘queers’.” Arrests of cross-dressing women and men was part of campaign to “prevent the spread of the evils of sex deviation”and “polic[e] the behavior of those afflicted with sex aberrations” was part of a war launched by “straight” citizens who banded together under the banner of historic preservation to rid the French Quarter of vice. This paper examines New Orleans' campaign against public sex. It provides a link between McCarthy-era “gay purges” and anti-prostitution campaigns, two forms of gender nonconformity that also suggest a necessary rethinking of the history of sexuality and the geography of gentrification.

One of the country’s oldest citizens’ preservationist groups, the Vieux Carré Property Owners and Associates (VCPOA) sought to transform the colonial era neighborhood into an imagined place for themselves and tourists seeking to experience “history.” Contestations over the content and character of the city’s history, as others have noted, are almost diffuse as they are endless, animated by characters, charming, criminal, eccentric and merely unconventional. Though some VCPOA officers occasionally expressed a desire to preserve the unique individuals of the Quarter, their efforts to preserve the neighborhood’s diverse architectural styles were intended to create a public space for an elite and homogenous few. The campaign against public sexuality and gender nonconformity reveals the ways that preservationists attempted to redesign peoples’ experiences and use of public space.