On the town

PHOTOS: This goddess shows you how New Orleans invites your beautiful “authentic self”

Photo credit: Michael Santiago Cintron

Did you know New Orleans boasts the fourth-largest LGBTQ population among metropolitan areas in the United States? The city is often referred to as the “queer capital of the South,” thanks, in part, to its friendly locals and easy-going attitude.

Queerty caught up with Tonia Smith (a.k.a. Latonia Dupree Black), a New Orleans performance artist and activist, who took us to some of her favorite spots around the city.

Our day started with brunch at Tonia’s favorite breakfast joint, followed by some shopping and sight-seeing, and ended at one of her regular French Quarter hangouts.

Scroll down to meet Tonia…

Photo credit: Michael Santiago Cintron

Hey y’all! My name is Tonia Smith. I’m a two-spirit being, or what many people call a trans woman. I live in the Uptown neighborhood and work as an HIV prevention counselor at Brotherhood Incorporated, a local non-profit that provides health, education, and housing services geared towards people of color in the greater New Orleans area.

Photo credit: Michael Santiago Cintron

I’m also a female illusionist and perform at a number of LGBTQ venues around town. I do regular shows at Bourbon Pub and Parade and the Golden Lantern in the French Quarter and Saturday Drag Brunch at Trinity Restaurant.

Photo credit: Michael Santiago Cintron

I meet up with Queerty for Sunday brunch at High Hat Cafe on Freret Street. I love the friendly, laid-back atmosphere and welcoming staff here. The food’s great, too! I order the cornmeal pancakes with extra crispy bacon and a coffee with chicory.

Photo credit: Michael Santiago Cintron

After brunch, we pop over to Magazine Street to do some shopping. Magazine has so many unique stores and locally-owned boutiques. Here we are at Fleurty Girl, where you can find tons of home goods, jewelry, knickknacks, and other funky stuff.

Photo credit: Michael Santiago Cintron

Just down the street from Fleurty Girl is Sucre, one of my go-to spots for all things sweet. They make their own macarons and chocolates and have over a dozen different types of gelato. I order the bread pudding with butter pecan gelato.

Photo credit: Michael Santiago Cintron

While we’re out, we pass by Terrance Osborne Gallery. I love Terrance’s work and the vibrant colors he uses. My favorite piece by him is “Reclaiming the Goddess Within” because I, too, am a goddess.

Photo credit: Michael Santiago Cintron

After hitting up Magazine Street, we zip downtown to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. It’s a magical underwater world filled with colorful fish, sharks, stingrays, sea turtles, sea otters, and other marine life you can’t see anywhere else.

Photo credit: Michael Santiago Cintron

Once we’re finished at the aquarium, it’s showtime! We head into the heart of the French Quarter to the Golden Lantern for my weekly Sunday afternoon performance…

Photo credit: Michael Santiago Cintron

I’ve been performing as Latonia Dupree Black for over 20 years. To me, drag is a way of expressing my fierce, inner goddess and letting her beauty shine for the world to see. I am so grateful to live in a place that’s not just accepting, but allows me the freedom to thrive.

Photo credit: Michael Santiago Cintron

Thanks for coming along with me on this journey. I’m so proud to call New Orleans home. I feel totally free to be my authentic self here. People are not too quick to judge, instead, they embrace you and welcome you with open arms.

So fly free, you beautiful butterflies!

Go visit and start your own New Orleans story!