Oct 14 2013

Halloween New Orleans Turns 30

By: Briana Prevost

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 Imagine bartending an event, with more than 5,000 people having never been a bartender before in your life. That's exactly what Project Lazarus Executive Director, Kim Moss, agreed to do during Halloween New Orleans' annual Saturday night costume party. "Oh, everybody loved me," Moss said of the experience. "I just asked and gave people whatever they wanted. It was a great way to meet people since I was new to the city."

With more Liza Minelli's, Barbara Streisand's and completely original colorful costumes than anyone can keep track of, the Saturday night costume party during Halloween New Orleans' four day celebration weekend has become the premiere event for the LGBT community in the Big Easy. One hundred percent of the proceeds from each night's events go directly to benefit Project Lazarus, a housing facility that provides medical care, support services and hospice, if needed, for men and women living with HIV/AIDS. Now in its 30th year, HNO has not only raised more than 4.6 million dollars for Project Lazarus and provided three decades of service to the LGBT community, the organization has also been asked to become a permanent exhibit at the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, a museum dedicated to preserving and sharing the cultural heritage of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"This is a huge thing, it's very meaningful," said Arthur Roger of the Arthur Roger Gallery who has been on the board for the organization since Halloween 10. "Other people will know what we did. It's an extraordinary thing."

According to Jason Waguespack, who serves as general counsel for HNO and has been a part of the organization for more than 20 years, HNO started back in 1984 when a group of eight friends invited friends from out-of-town over for a private costume party at the Civic Center in downtown New Orleans. More than 800 people showed up to the first party and the group decided to make this type of gathering an annual thing. As time went by, the event grew, and the original organizers added on new events. Thursday became a fundraiser and silent auction, Friday evolved into a welcome dance party for out-of-town guests, Saturday night remained the huge costume party and Sunday saw a jazz and gospel brunch as a way to close the weekend’s activities and say goodbye to friends, old and new.

It wasn't until 1987 that HNO decided to take action against the growing fear and animosity of individuals living (and dying) from the HIV/AIDS crisis, Waguespack said. That year, HNO asked for a $20 donation charge at the Saturday costume party to benefit Project Lazarus. That party alone raised more than $15,000.

"I don't even know if Lazarus would be here," said Steve Rivera, director of development at Project Lazarus. "We would not be able to offer the level of service we offer without Halloween New Orleans. We're all extremely grateful for them."

Started in 1985, Project Lazarus has grown from an old convent where people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS went to die to a fully functional medical center to support those, "living in the positive," as their slogan says. Outfitted with personal care attendants who attend to each of the 23-patient’s needs, Moss said Project Lazarus also offers an outpatient drug and alcohol abuse program, staff counselors and substance abuse counselors, therapeutic activities such as meditation and acupuncture, and a wellness university, a rewards incentives program that educates each resident about HIV/AIDS healthy living, the importance of taking medication and protecting themselves against spreading the disease.

But that's not all. The house in which the residents live comes with a common area, a business center so the residents can job hunt, walls lined with endless donated historical Jazz Fest posters and several gardens; one of which is dedicated to HNO and its dedication to Project Lazarus.

"That says something to do that for 30 years and never leave that mission, not once," Rivera said. "It's a gift from God. It really is."

This year’s HNO events focuses on the, "We're Engaged!" theme. Thursday night is "The Wedding Shower," Friday is the "Gay Bachelor Party," Saturday is, but of course, the wedding in the "Chapel of Love," with Sunday closing out the weekend with "The Honeymoon." At some point during that weekend, The Stonewall Museum, which is based in Florida, will have a special viewing of the new exhibit honoring HNO in New Orleans.

"Halloween New Orleans was started to bring people together to celebrate each other," Roger said. "It's an organization of love. That's always been the core of what the party is about. That and the fact that we grew confident it was going to help people in our community."

Marigny/Bywater
Metairie