As a teenager, Severio took a bus to the French Quarter from rural Livingston Parish. In the 30 years since, he's established a career as a hair stylist and as "Reba Douglas," a drag queen entertainer and emcee (currently working at Lucky Pierre's on Bourbon Street). He was chosen as co-grand marshal of this year's Southern Decadence celebration.
"I moved here in 1984 for the World's Fair — I was an usher at the Aquacade at the World's Fair. My first job was D.H. Holmes; I worked for a day in the cafeteria, poured Cokes, and I hated it.
"It was pre-AIDS — that hadn't hit the gay community yet, and it felt very free, being from a small town. When I came here at 18, I just felt accepted right away. I was bullied for about 12 years straight [in school], and I think I would have died — committed suicide or something — if it wasn't for the fact that I knew I was going to be able to live somewhere else. That was the hope. So I graduated mid-term and hit the bus to New Orleans, like Dolly Parton! (laughs)
"Coming here was like a different world — anywhere in the South, anywhere in the world is a different world from New Orleans, particularly Livingston Parish. I stayed [in New Orleans] until after [Hurricane] Katrina and moved to New York for three years. But there's no place like New Orleans.
"It took me a minute to settle in when I got home [from New York], because of all the transitions we went through with Katrina. Our city — we got discombobulated. But one thing I'll say about New Orleans: it's resourceful. People here want to see you make it; they really reach out a hand. When you meet somebody, you're gonna invite somebody over for red beans, and it's the real deal.
"I think the city's on the upswing, which could be bad in later years; it's not as cheap as it was to live here, and I think the Quarter has definitely changed. You don't see as many creatives here — no more characters, no more "Ruthies" (Ruthie the Duck Lady). But a lot of it's positive. And it's the same in a lot of ways. It's awesome. I mean, you look at why we live here, and it's amazing. If we focus on festivals and music and gumbo and red beans and rice, we'll be OK. How can we lose what our heart is? How can we lose that feeling of Mardi Gras?
"The bad side of New Orleans — these children raise more children, and they raise children the way they were raised, and they don't have any respect for life. And more and more younger kids have guns, and that's the sad part of New Orleans I wish could be changed. But if you're 3 years old and you see your cousin or your uncle shot in front of you — where's the hope in that? It's easier to deal drugs than it is to get a real job.
"Louisiana is a conservative state. I think we should have our own island, New Orleans. It's just sad what some people say — including our governor. And I wonder, conservative Uptown, conservative Metairie: Do they rule the city? The French Quarter is its own little island, and I'm sure — well, gay marriage here could happen. But would conservative people Uptown ... how would they feel about that?" — As told to Kevin Allman
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And if you'd like to tell your story, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll definitely do a Part 3.