'Christian Patriot' Targets Gay Mardi Gras

Oct. 6, 2003 -- During the annual Mardi Gras festival, the atmosphere in New Orleans is clearly "anything goes."

But another wildly popular New Orleans celebration, the annual Southern Decadence festival, or "gay Mardi Gras," is making some people wonder whether the city's "anything goes" attitude should just plain go away.

The Rev. Grant Storms, who calls himself a fundamentalist Christian patriot on a mission from God, is at the forefront of this effort.

Storms says he became interested in Southern Decadence in 2001, when a fellow preacher described lewd sexual acts he'd seen at the festival.

The following year, Storms went to the festival with a video camera, and taped men exposing themselves, having oral sex in public, and barrooms showing homosexual pornography visible from the streets with the doors open.

Storms took his tape to the police, the media and to lawmakers, including state Rep. Danny Martiny, a Republican, who reacted by helping pass a bill that toughens the penalty for public sex.

"When you have an 'anything goes' mentality you draw people into your city who have that same mentality," Martiny said. "The only time we have to step in is when they go over the line … And I think this is clearly over the line."

On a Crusade

Many in the gay community say what Storms captured on camera was an isolated incident, and not the norm.

"It's a party. We get drunk, we hit the bars, hit the restaurants, wear costumes, have a good time, throw beads. That's what it's about," said Rusty LaRoux, this year's Southern Decadence grand marshal.

But Storms, buoyed by the success of his video campaign, says he's preparing to wage what he calls an even "holier" crusade.

Storms told ABCNEWS he wants to end Southern Decadence. "Totally … utterly and totally. We want them out of town," he said.

In a city where almost 40 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, the archdiocese of New Orleans agreed with Storms, and asked officials to ban Southern Decadence. But the head of the mayor's task force on gay and lesbian issues says the city can't afford to ban the festival.

"Many of the hotels, restaurants, bars in the quarter make up for the losses through the summer just in the weekend of Decadence," said Randal Beach.

Storms condemned the city officials. "They're prostitutes. They're legalized prostitutes," he said.

But the protest only fired up the opposition. The gay community in New Orleans numbers more than 100,000 and it clearly influences the city's economy and politics.

"I don't think I've got a right to openly have sex in the street and I don't plan on that," said participant Tim Holt. "But I do have a right to be who I am in the street. He's stomping on my individual freedoms."

LaRoux said he thought Storms is "very homophobic." Storms said he's "not anti-gay per se." "I'm anti-decadence, I'm anti-depravity, I'm anti-sin," he said.

However, asked if he thought homosexuality is a sin, Storms said, "Yes. Oh undoubtedly. The Bible's very clear."

Locking Horns

On the first big night of Southern Decadence, Storms and his followers were preparing to march into the French Quarter.

A broom in his hand to symbolically sweep the streets clean, Storms began with several hundred followers behind him. Meanwhile, a block away, New Orleans police were preparing for the possibility of violence.

When Storms' followers and the revelers of Southern Decadence ultimately met, the streets echoed out with chants of "Jesus" and opposing chants of "haters."

Bucketfuls of confetti met the crowds of brooms, accompanied by the sounds of jeers.

Storms boomed, "Repent … this is not the way God made you, it's the way the devil has perverted you."

Another man in the crowd called the commotion "unbelievable." "I can't believe we've gone back 300 years in time. This blows my mind," he said.

By the end of the festival, there were no arrests for public sex, and Storms was calling his mission a success.

But festival organizers also claimed victory, saying the publicity generated by Storms actually helped increase attendance by 10 percent.

And in a city where the good times roll, officials were smiling too. Southern Decadence brought in record-breaking revenues of $96 million.

As for Storms, he says he's got even grander plans — to eliminate public nudity and sex at Mardi Gras and beyond.

For example, Sin City, U.S.A. — Las Vegas. "That's our next stop … schedule a flight to Las Vegas," Storms said. "We want to take it to every city in the United States, wherever stuff goes on."