Yes, I am referring to the horrible fire at the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans on June 24, 1973. I first wrote about this event last year on May 31. I'll re-post what I wrote below the fold, but first I want to (partially) quote a couple of other articles I found related to the incident today. The UpStairs Inferno documentary premiered in New Orleans today. More on that below. The comment under the photo to the right simply states "UpStairs Lounge patrons during happier times"
From Box Turtle Bulletin in their TODAY IN HISTORY blog post:
32 Killed in Arson Fire At New Orleans Gay Bar: 1973.
The UpStairs Lounge fire was the deadliest in New Orleans’ history, and may very well have been the worst mass murder of gay people in American history. But aside from the first day’s coverage, New Orleans could barely muster a yawn. Newspaper photos of Rev. Larson’s charred body against the window frame came to symbolize the city’s apathy t0ward the tragedy. Talk radio hosts told jokes (“What will they bury the ashes of queers in? Fruit jars.”), and a cab driver callously quipped, “I hope the fire burned their dresses off.” Not only did the New Orleans Police Department barely investigate the crime, they could hardly be bothered to identify the victims. Major Henry Morris, chief detective of the New Orleans Police Department said, “We don’t even know these papers belonged to the people we found them on. Some thieves hung out there, and you know this was a queer bar.” Churches refused to allow families to hold funerals on their premises. Other families refused to claim their dead sons’ bodies. Four unidentified bodies ended up being dumped in a mass grave. Although there was a firm suspect in the case, no one was ever charged.
The deadliest attack on LGBT people in U.S. history is being remembered in powerful new ways today on its 42nd anniversary, including two new films. An arson fire killed 32 people at the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans, 42 years ago today on June 24, 1973.
“Upstairs Inferno,” directed by Robert Camina and narrated by Christopher Rice, premieres tonight in New Orleans, where “Tracking Fire” is currently filming on location with director Sheri Wright. “Upstairs Inferno” brings humanity to the headlines by interviewing more than 20 people, including several survivors who have kept silent for decades.
Few people cared about the UpStairs Lounge fire at the time. The crime was never solved, churches refused to do funerals for the dead, and four bodies went unclaimed. Now there is a resurgence of interest.
Other recent works about the fire include an award-winning online exhibit at the LGBT Religious Archives Network; the 2014 book “The Up Stairs Lounge Arson: Thirty-two Dead in a New Orleans Gay Bar, June 24, 1973” by Clayton Delery-Edwards; and the musical drama “Upstairs” by Louisiana playwright Wayne Self. In 2013 the New Orleans Museum of Art acquired Louisiana artist Skylar Fein’s major installation “Remember the UpStairs Lounge.” The tragedy is also recounted in a short documentary by award-winning film maker Royd Anderson released on June 24, 2013, and in the 2011 book “Let the Faggots Burn: The UpStairs Lounge Fire” by Johnny Townsend.
There is much more about the incident and the documentaries at the link above. I encourage you to check it out if you're interested in this event.
My reporting of the horrible fire and the circumstances surrounding it is below the fold.
Before any of the mainline Christian churches or denominations became inclusive of LGBT folks, there was Metropolitan Community Churches. MCC was founded by the Rev. Troy Perry in 1968 in Los Angeles. Soon, other MCC churches began to pop up in other large cities around the country. One of those churches was located in New Orleans. They held services in the Up Stairs Lounge for a while. The services were not being held there at the time of the fire, but there were a number of members of MCC there when the fire broke out, and these members were some of the victims. The pastor of MCC New Orleans, the Rev. Larson, was among the victims.
From Rev. Perry's book, "Don't Be Afraid Anymore":
On October 6, 1968, nine months before Stonewall, the first Metropolitan Community Church was born in a suburban Los Angeles home -- a new church with a mission to minister to lesbians and gay men.
Troy Perry was raised among Southern Pentacostals and Baptists. Married at eighteen, he became the father of two children and the pastor of the Church of God in Illinois until he was excommunicated for his homosexuality, losing his church, his wife, and his children. He then spent years searching until he finally realized he was called to minister to those believers the Christian churches had driven away because of blind prejudice. And for the next two decades Perry and the church struggled against adversity, arson, hate, and prejudice to become one of the fastest growing Christian denominations in the world.
The book quoted from was published back in 1990. Since MCC's founding, a number of other mainline Christian denominations have become quite inclusive of LGBT people. But, it definitely was not always this way.
Chapter six in the book is about the Up Stairs Lounge. I'll quote just one short excerpt form it.
Seventeen sites where we have worshiped have been intentionally burned, three in 1973 alone. Our Mother Church was the first, burned in January. Two months later, in March, our meeting place in Nashville, Tennessee, was torched, destroying sacred items upon the altar. Authorities called it a fire "of suspicious origin." As in Los Angeles, no one was injured and no one was ever apprehended.
The third fire, in June 1973, was by far the worst, a nightmare in a city where unsuspected intolerance festered like an unclean wound.
One of the heartbreaking stories that Rev. Perry tells in that chapter is about how difficult it was for him (and, the other members of the gay community) just to find a place to have a memorial service for the victims of the fire.
A new documentary is being made about the event.
From The Advocate:
Forty-one years after the largest gay mass murder in U.S. history, a new filmmaker Robert Camina's eagerly awaited documentary, Upstairs Inferno, tackles the topic. The first trailer for the film has been released (watch below) and the Camina (whose previous documentary was the much-awarded, Meredith Baxer-narrated Raid of the Rainbow Lounge) has launched an IndieGoGo fundraising campaign to help cover the remaining production costs.
On June 24, 1973, an arsonist set fire to a gay bar in New Orleans called the Up Stairs Lounge. Thirty-two people were killed and some bodies were never identified because their families were ashamed that the victims were gay. No one was ever charged with the crime.
And updated trailer is below:
UPSTAIRS INFERNO - Teaser Trailer [HD] from Camina Entertainment on Vimeo.