Jun 24, 2013


Today is the 40th anniversary of the arson at the Upstairs Lounge, an event I didn't even know about until a few years ago.

Of course, that's the point.

Until a few years ago, it wasn't talked about.

This year, however, there are documentaries: "'The Upstairs Lounge Fire,' delves into a fire at a gay nightclub that Anderson says is the worst mass murder of gays in U.S. history. "

And even a musical.

 I'd posted this four years ago, but I thought I'd post it again.
 To remind myself, if nothing else.

(the only known national news coverage at the time)

From the Huffington post:

Gay Weddings and 32 Funerals: Remembering the UpStairs Erik Ose

"...To fully understand recent events, it's important to remember a tragedy that happened thirty-five years ago, and how much things have changed for gays and lesbians since then.

On the last Sunday in June, 1973, a gay bar in New Orleans called the UpStairs Lounge was firebombed. The resulting blaze killed 32 people. At the time, the bar had recently served as the temporary home for the fledgling New Orleans congregation of the Metropolitan Community Church. Founded in Los Angeles in 1968, the MCC was the nation's first gay church...

That Sunday was the final day of Pride Weekend, the fourth anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Yet there was still no Gay Pride Parade in New Orleans. Almost two dozen gay bars dotted the French Quarter, but gay life in the city remained largely underground...

Original site of the UpStairs Lounge at 141 Chartres Street as it looked in Spring, 2008.

Before moving worship services to their pastor's home earlier in June, congregation members had been holding services at the UpStairs on Sundays. But the bar was still a spiritual gathering place. There was a piano in one of the bar's three rooms, and a cabaret stage. Members would pray and sing in this room, and every Sunday night, they gathered around the piano for a song they had adopted as their anthem, United We Stand, by The Brotherhood of Man.

They sang the song that evening, with David Gary on the piano, a pianist who played regularly in the lounge of the Marriott Hotel across the street. The congregation members repeated the verses again and again, swaying back and forth, arm in arm, happy to be together at their former place of worship on Pride Sunday, still feeling the effects of the free beer special.

At 7:56 pm a buzzer from downstairs sounded, the one that signaled a cab had arrived. No one had called a cab, but when someone opened the second floor steel door to the stairwell, flames rushed in. An arsonist had deliberately set the wooden stairs ablaze, and the oxygen starved fire exploded. The still-crowded bar became an inferno within seconds.

The emergency exit was not marked, and the windows were boarded up or covered with iron bars. A few survivors managed to make it through, and jumped to the sidewalks, some in flames. Rev. Bill Larson, the local MCC pastor, got stuck halfway and burned to death wedged in a window, his corpse visible throughout the next day to witnesses below..."

You can read the rest here


ayeM8y said...

After hearing this story here...I always check for the exits when entering questionable establishments. I don't want my charred remains on display.

I attended the Pride Festival event in Pensacola on Saturday. Apparently we have no Pride...or should I say only Lesbians do.

I kept thinking that this would be a great day for the Supreme Court to announce the upcoming verdict, good or bad.

ilduce said...

Dear God, had no idea of this tragedy. Thank you for the history lesson Jason.

Diane said...

I too didn't know of this. Horrifying and sad.

Anonymous said...

A sad tale I'm happy to learn about.